California’s largest teacher organization came out Tuesday against an initiative proposed by a Silicon Valley businessman and an Orange County schoolteacher to dismantle bilingual education

The announcement by the California Teachers Assn. was a significant counterpunch for opponents of the “English for the Children” initiative, who had been struggling in recent weeks.

The proposed initiative, targeted for the June ballot, would require all public school instruction to be conducted in English, with few exceptions.
It would also offer special “English-immersion” classes for about a year to students who are not fluent in the language.

Currently, such students are taught in a variety of ways, some of them in bilingual classes that use their native language, usually Spanish.

“This initiative arbitrarily limits the access of some students to the curriculum by dictating a single method of language instruction,”
CTA President Lois Tinson said in a press release. “Students do not come in ‘one-size-fits-all’ containers. They are individuals and they need instruction built around their individuality.”

The CTA’s actions on education issues are watched closely because the organization can call on 270,000 union members to help raise money and volunteer for campaigns.

Initiative sponsor Ron K. Unz, a software entrepreneur and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, called the CTA announcement “unfortunate.”

“On the other hand,” Unz said, “I do think our initiative will be very, very popular among rank-and-file teachers, including CTA members and presumably CTA activists up and down the state.”

Unz, whose co-sponsor is Santa Ana elementary school teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, denied his proposal would mandate one instructional approach. He said parents who object to English-only teaching could seek a waiver; his opponents, however, say waivers would be difficult to obtain.

Unz and Matta Tuchman have secured key endorsements of their own. In September, delegates to a Republican state convention gave the measure their blessing despite the efforts of party leaders to delay an endorsement vote.
This month, Latino schoolteacher Jaime Escalante, made famous in the movie
“Stand and Deliver,” also endorsed the initiative.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that the proposed initiative enjoys overwhelming support among all the state’s voters and even among Latino voters. However, foes of the initiative say that the poll numbers will turn around once the public learns more about it.

Unz said Tuesday that he has gathered 600,000 voter signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. He needs 433,269 verified signatures. The deadline to turn them in is Dec. 1.

Unz is bankrolling part of the signature gathering. Campaign records show he has also received $50,000 total from two Florida residents and $48,000 from Fieldstead & Co., an Irvine philanthropy associated with Christian-conservative banking heir Howard F. Ahmanson Jr.

The CTA followed the California Federation of Teachers, which in September decided to oppose the proposed measure.

“We are in this to fight, and to fight it strong,” said Dolores Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the CFT, which has 45,000 members. She said the position the teacher groups have taken “is a strong message that educators,
people who actually have classroom experience, believe that this is a harmful proposal for the children.”

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