Bilingual Teaching Advocates Decry Proposed Initiative

Education: Parents urge keeping 'a system that works.' Opponents have said kids need language skills to compete.

At a news briefing here Thursday by bilingual education advocates, the two condemned the “English for the Children” measure proposed for a statewide vote next June.

The initiative, which has not yet qualified for the ballot, would require virtually all public school instruction to be in English. Parents like Ortiz and Aitkens who want their children exposed to Spanish in the classroom would be forced to apply for a waiver, which initiative opponents say would be difficult to get.

“We would not like to see that choice taken away from us,”
Aitkens said. “I think this initiative is very dangerous.”

Said Ortiz: “It would affect us all very much to get rid of a system that works.”

The two were joined by researchers, a teacher, a principal and others who support bilingual education in a time when it is under fierce attack.
Leaders of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education said they sought to clear up “misinformation.”

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The initiative’s sponsors, Silicon Valley businessman Ron K. Unz and Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, say they are seeking to end a system that has failed to give children the English skills they need to compete.
Now gathering voter signatures, they expect to complete their petition drive by mid-November.

Bilingual education supporters reached Thursday for homespun metaphors to explain why some children should not be rushed into English-only classes.

When he was a youngster, said David Ramirez, an education professor at Cal State Long Beach who has studied bilingual programs nationwide, he once tried to bake a cake with a recipe that called for heating the batter at 250 degrees for one hour. In a hurry, he set the oven at 500 degrees and took the pan out after half an hour.

“I had a cake that was burned on the outside and raw in the middle,”
Ramirez said, “so I had to throw it away.”

Likewise, Ramirez said, children who are not fluent in English may learn the language superficially through “immersion” classes but often fail to reach the fluency needed for reading and writing and fall behind in other subjects.

About 1.4 million California students are not proficient in English,
state records show. Of those, about three in 10 are taught in their native languages. The rest receive a variety of English-based programs or no special help at all. In Orange County, nearly a third of public school students are not fluent in English.

On Tuesday, voters in Orange Unified School District, which serves 29,000 students in Orange, Villa Park and parts of Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove, will be asked whether they support a recent school board decision to drop bilingual education. The measure is only advisory.

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