TURLOCK — More than 700 people crammed the gymnasium at Turlock Junior High School Monday night hoping for an emotionally charged debate on Proposition 227. The audience wasn’t disappointed. But they had to wait because the team in favor of it, Fernando Vega and proposition author Ron Unz, arrived 75 minutes late.

Proposition 227 is a June ballot initiative the would limit bilingual education to one year for non-English-speaking students.

“We are up against a huge bilingual education machine,” Unz said a few minutes after he arrived. “They spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to not teach English.”

The people who are against Proposition 227 are those who make money from teaching bilingual education, he said. That includes bilingual aides, English-as-a-second-language specialists, bilingual education book publishers, and “teachers who earn thousands of dollars extra each year simply for being bilingual.”

The latter statement was greeted with a wave of laughter from teachers in the audience.

“Well, some school districts don’t pay as well as others,”
Unz joked.

Bilingual education has been around for 30 years and has failed, he said,
while answering one of 14 questions submitted by audience members.

“The Los Angeles Unified School District did a study that concluded that two-thirds of the children who started in bilingual education in kindergarten did not know how to speak English after six years,” Unz said. “The Catholic schools, the parochial schools, teach English from day one and it works.”

The reason there’s such a high failure rate is that 70 percent of the students in California who do not speak English are not in bilingual education,
said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, an English-as-a-second-language consultant for the Los Angeles Unified School District and one of the two debaters opposed to 227.

She repeatedly challenged Unz to name one school in the United States that taught the English language to students in one year. He never named one.

“This proposition flies in the face of all studies that show students learn differently at different rates,” Spiegel-Coleman said. The proposition would put non-English-speaking students on one-year detention, wouldn’t teach them anything else except English, and then would punish them if they didn’t learn it fast enough, she said.

In addition, the proposition would take away parents rights to decide if their children should be in a bilingual class, a decision parents can make today.

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