It was inevitable that California’s Proposition 227 would be approved Tuesday. Bilingual education is — or at least is widely perceived as — an abysmal failure. It was time to try something that might work better.

Nobody denies that the program was spawned from good intentions.

The idea was to teach immigrant children in both their native tongues and in English.

That was supposed to keep them from falling behind in subjects such as math and history while they learned English. But instead, it eliminated the sense of urgency to learn English, which they must master to succeed in college.

Proposition 227, which takes effect with the fall term, will move students into regular classrooms after a year of intensive immersion in English.

Naturally, there is some opposition. About 1,500 teachers have signed a pledge to violate the law — and several groups, some purporting to represent Hispanics, have filed suit to block it.

But, in fact, pre-election polls showed about half of all teachers and more than half of Hispanics supported it. Even 47 percent of all Democrats said they were in favor. The only strong opposition came, not surprisingly, from people who considered themselves to be liberals.

The dissident teachers work for the taxpayers, and insubordination is grounds for termination.

As for those filing the lawsuit, they have a weak case.

Their argument, as explained by their American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, is that Proposition 227 denies a good education to children who are not fluent in English. That, they insist, violates both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment — ‘No state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’

But there is about as much evidence against the effectiveness of bilingual
education as there is for it. The equal protection clause was never intended to outlaw good-faith efforts to improve the education — and thus the future earnings potential — of minorities.

If Proposition 227 lowers the academic achievement of minority students over a period of time, which seems unlikely, perhaps the ACLU would have a case. But just as bilingual education was given a chance to prove itself, the same courtesy should be extended to the alternative that the voters have embraced overwhelmingly.

The repercussions could be widespread. About one-fourth of the state’s 5.6 million schoolchildren were in bilingual programs this year.

Also, there is a growing movement nationwide against bilingual education;
already, in fact, it has been rolled back in Chicago, Denver and the entire state of Arizona. California’s initiative may energize those forces elsewhere.

The Washington Post recently quoted a mother of two — a Mexican native living in the garment district of Los Angeles, where poor immigrant parents boycotted a local elementary school several years ago to get their children out of bilingual programs:

‘I supported this position (Proposition 227) because the kids need more English. It was slow with bilingual education. The children learned Spanish not very well and English not very well. I want my sons to go to the university.’

Her concerns are being addressed. A failed experiment has been put to rest.



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