The opposition to California’s Proposition 227, passed two years ago, was virulent. Foes waged a fierce campaign before the voters approved the measure and filed suit afterward to block it. Carlotta del Portillo,
president of San Francisco’s school board, termed Prop 227 “an absurd measure, which has no educational basis and would set our students back 30 years.”
Why did it draw such fire? Because it replaced a system of bilingual education with one in which non-English-speaking pupils are taught primarily in English until they are fluent. Previous studies have indicated that language immersion works best at bringing students up to speed, but a vocal minority of doubters – as well as immigrant parents unsure about the most beneficial approach for their children – have resisted attempts to move in that direction.
Two years later, results from the Los Angeles Unified School District give supporters of Prop 227 grounds to believe their position will be vindicated.
A record number of non-English-speaking students have become fluent in English. Most are in the lower grades, meaning they can advance through school with one fewer obstacle to impede their progress.
A single data set, however impressive, does not settle the issue. It will take years before Californians know for certain whether adopting language immersion was the right thing to do – just as it took them years to realize the “whole language” method of teaching reading was a fraud that sent California to the sub-cellar in reading proficiency. But the preliminary returns at least disprove the notion that immersion would be ruinous for immigrant youngsters. If future results reflect this year’s, then the case for immersion will become a slam-dunk.