THE UNZ INITIATIVE [RESPONSE]
1. What is the Unz initiative?
The Unz initiative is a proposed measure, also known as "English for the Children" that a group called One Nation/One California is attempting to place on the June 1998 ballot to eliminate bilingual education and all other English language development programs that use primary language to ensure access to academic courses such as math, science, and civics. The initiative instead imposes a one-size-fits-all approach that separates students by English fluency for a year of English immersion. During the year, schools are encouraged to combine children of different ages and grade levels together. After one year, students would be placed in regular classrooms regardless of whether or not they have mastered English.
Many inaccuracies. The initiative isn't "one-size-fits-all" but instead allows
parents to seek waivers to place their children in bilingual education if they
wish. Under the current system, children have often been forced into
Spanish-only "bilingual" programs, with parents forced to publicly picket
schools in attempts to get them out. The initiative certainly doesn't
encourage schools to place children of different ages together while they are
learning English, and this would rarely be necessary; nearly all the
limited-English children enter school in kindergarten and would learn English
at that time. Students are only moved into regular classes once they have
learned English, and there is no rigid time-limit for this, though such a
process should normally take one year or less.
2. Who is supporting this initiative?
Ron Unz, a wealthy computer businessman who wrote the initiative, has contributed substantial amounts of his private funds to the campaign and has formed One Nation/One California to run the campaign. He has no background whatsoever in education generally or in the education of English learners. He ran for governor in the Republican primary in 1994 and lost to Governor Pete Wilson. He has enlisted the support of individuals associated with the English Only movement, such as English immersion teacher and former U.S. English board member Gloria Matta Tuchman. The group's initial financial disclosure statement reveals significant initial out-of-state support for this California initiative: about 1/3 of the total funding has come from 2 donors in Florida, and another 1/3 from Unz himself
Ron Unz is not a "bilingual education" theorist, but he does have the common
sense to believe that a system in which only about 5% of children learn English
each year is unsuccessful, and that young children can learn English quickly;
"bilingual" academic theorist all claim that children require 7 years to learn
a new language. All the young children in Gloria Matta Tuchman's class learn
English in less than one year, and her teaching success led MALDEF to persuade
her to join their local leadership in the 1980s.
3. What is bilingual education?
Bilingual education teaches students English while at the same time ensuring that they learn core academic subjects, like science, math, and social studies, through supplemental instruction in their primary language until they have mastered enough English to learn in English alone. Only 30 percent of California's 1.3 million English learners are in bilingual education programs. Research demonstrates, however, that bilingual education programs are more successful than all other forms of English language development instruction in producing high long-term academic achievement. Bilingual education, like many other English language development approaches, also successfully teaches students how to speak, read, and write English.
In most cases in California, Most "bilingual education" programs in California
are actually Spanish-only programs, in which almost no English is taught to
young children when they start school. For example, Los Angeles schools (which
contain about half of the state's "bilingual" students) have long had a
practice of giving young children no more than thirty minutes a day of English
instruction, which is one reason it generally takes those students seven years
to learn English. Although "bilingual education" is mandatory for nearly all
the limited-English children in California schools, it is impossible to
actually implement (e.g. there are 140 different languages spoken), so a huge
fraction of these children are given no assistance whatsoever, and are placed
in "sink-or-swim" English-only classrooms. Our initiative would replace both
"sink-or-swim" and "bilingual education" with sheltered English immersion
programs, in which the children are taught English as soon as they start
school. Research by "bilingual" theorists claims that "bilingual education"
works in theory, but there is no evidence that it has ever worked in actual
practice on a large scale.
4. What is Sheltered English immersion?
The initiative defines the term Sheltered English immersion in a way far different from education researchers and from the California Department of Education. Normally, Sheltered English immersion is used for intermediate level English learners to help them get up to speed as they make the transition to classes taught completely in English. It is not a technique designed to be the only means of teaching English to students.
Yet, the initiative proposes a one-year Sheltered English immersion program as its sole approach to teaching English before students are placed in regular classrooms taught only in English. No research supports such a draconian one-year English immersion approach to English language development. Indeed, reputable research shows that it takes 3 or more years to become sufficiently fluent to be able to learn difficult academic subjects taught only in English. This initiative eliminates the current flexibility of determining how fast or slow to transfer an individual child to classes taught solely in English.
"Bilingual education" theory claims that it takes a five-year-old child seven
years to learn English, which is complete academic lunacy. Scientific studies
have all shown that young children acquire languages extremely rapidly, and
this is confirmed by almost all the anecdotal evidence which one encounters.
"Sheltered English immersion" is just a technical name for teaching English to
young children who don't know the language. Under the initiative, children
would only be moved to regular English classes once they had learned English.
5. If you want someone to learn English, shouldn't you teach them in English?
If learning English were the only goal of public schools, English immersion would make sense. However, students need both to learn English and to excel and advance in other academic subject areas like math, reading, science, and social studies. The one-year approach to Sheltered English immersion will not allow students to master English nor to learn other core academic subjects. Under the initiative's plan, English language learners will fall behind academically and potentially be stigmatized as "slow learners."
The overwhelming majority of the children in English immersion classes would be
5- or 6-year-olds. Although they would be taught academic subjects, the
emphasis would be on learning English as quickly as possible. At that age,
their academic loss would be negligible. Under the current system, they are
prevented from learning English until near the end of elementary school, at
which time they do fall behind academically. "Bilingual education" is
based on the notion that the best way of teaching children English is to
prevent them from being exposed to English, and this is complete lunacy.
6. Why does this initiative seek to eliminate bilingual education?
In some cases, bilingual education has not worked as intended. However, this is true of many programs in our public schools, due largely to inadequate resources, untrained teachers, inadequate parent involvement, or poor management by the principal or district. However, in cases where school districts use their resources properly and educate English learners with trained, credentialed, and committed teachers, bilingual education is the most successful approach both to teaching students English and to giving them the tools to succeed academically. When bilingual education is done right, it has a proven track record of success.
The problem is that after nearly 30 years of trying, there is no large scale
example anywhere where "bilingual education" actually works well. The
current system of language instruction in California has an annual failure rate
of 95% in teaching English to young children. "Bilingual education" may or may
not work in theory, under ideal laboratory conditions; it certainly doesn't
work in practice, in the real world.
7. If there are problems with bilingual education, why isn't this initiative the answer?
Where problems exist with bilingual education, the answer is to fix the program, not to eliminate it. It is a myth that bilingual education has failed. The truth is that only 30 percent of English learners are taught in bilingual programs. The remaining 70 percent are in the of English-only programs the initiative proposes to use for all English learners. Since immersion does not work for many children and can lead to poor academic performance in later years, the initiative's approach puts California's fastest growing segment of students (English learners) at risk of academic failure and eliminates the role of local school administrators, teachers, and parents to decide what is best at their particular school.
"Bilingual education" has been mandatory for nearly all California
English-learners for 20 years. After all that time, it is so impossible to
implement in practice, that only 30 percent of the students are in such
programs (it's hard to find teachers speaking all the necessary 140 different
languages), and "bilingual" supporters claim that over half of even these
programs are inadequate. A much larger number of students are in
"sink-or-swim" programs, with no extra help whatsoever. The initiative would
replace both of these approaches with intensive English instruction for the
children as soon as they start school. It's interesting to note that among all
immigrant groups, Spanish-speaking children are the ones most likely to be
given the "benefit" of "bilingual education," and of all immigrant groups,
Spanish-speaking children leave school with the lowest test scores, the highest
drop-out rates, and the lowest rates of admission to college.
8. What effect could this initiative have on foreign language instruction?
The initiative could prevent many students from receiving foreign language instruction because of its rigid mandate that all children in public schools shall be taught in English in all
classes. Foreign language courses (in French, German, Latin, or Japanese, for example) necessary to fulfill college entrance requirements will only be offered if a student qualifies for and is granted a waiver under one of the three narrow exceptions in the initiative. Thus, parents who want their child to fulfill the college entrance requirement of foreign language coursework must go through the onerous waiver process. And, school districts could deny a waiver for any reason. This could prevent many students from fulfilling college entrance requirements.
This is utter nonsense. Section 306(b) defines an English-language program as
one in which the language of instruction is "overwhelmingly" the English
language. Students who are taking one or two periods of foreign language
courses (such as French, Spanish, or German) are still "overwhelmingly" being
instructed in English, and require no parental waiver whatsoever.
9. Do some Latinos support this initiative?
Some Latino parents are concerned that their children are not learning English fast enough. Others, however, are outraged at recent local and statewide attempts to eliminate bilingual education for their children. The initiative plays into the fears of some parents by offering an "easy answer." Unfortunately, that easy answer fails to deal with the real problems facing our schools and places English language learners at great risk academically. Learning English should not have to come at the expense of academic success.
All across the U.S., there have been numerous cases of Latino parents
boycotting, picketing, suing or protesting to try to get their children out of
Spanish-only "bilingual education" programs. Often, the leaders of these
protests have been Latinos who once supported "bilingual education" until they
saw that it didn't actually work in practice. Several different national and
California research surveys have consistently found that over 80% of Latinos
oppose "bilingual education" and instead want their children taught English as
soon as they enter school. Most recently, the highly-regarded Los Angeles
Times poll found that 84% of California Latinos support our initiative
against "bilingual education," the highest level of support among any
California ethnic group. Jaime Escalante, the East LA Calculus teacher made
famous in Stand and Deliver, has long been a foe of "bilingual
education" and joined our campaign as Honorary Chairman.
10. Can parents request English-only instruction now?
Yes. Current law requires that parents be informed of their undeniable right to place their children in classes taught only in English simply be sending a written note to the principal. While there have been some instances where parents' requests have not been immediately honored, the education code is clear.
MALDEF is lying on this point. "Bilingual education" is voluntary in theory,
but mandatory in reality. There have been numerous cases of parents
boycotting, picketing, suing or protesting to try to get their children out of
"bilingual education" programs, and MALDEF has never assisted any of these
parents in any way. Last year, a group of parents at the 9th St.
Elementary School in Los Angeles began a boycott and picket-line protest to try
to force the local school to allow their children to learn English. This
protest occurred just 8 blocks from MALDEF's national headquarters, but MALDEF
didn't lift a finger to help those Mexican-American parents.
11. How does this initiative affect parental choice and local control?
The initiative strips parents, local school boards and teachers of the power to choose an appropriate English language development (ELD) program and dictates one rigid instructional approach. The initiative adds a new complicated procedure that requires parents to apply in person to choose a different ELD program and requires their child to satisfy one of three narrowly defined exceptions: (1) above average test performance in English at the fifth grade level, (2) the child is over 10 years old and the educational staff believe another program would be better, or (3) the child has "special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs." Schools can deny a waiver for any reason, even if one of these grounds is met. If parents of at least 20 students from the same grade level receive a waiver, only then must a school district offer another educational program to English learners, but not necessarily at the same school.
This initiative ensures that most children are taught English as soon as they
start school (which is what the overwhelming majority of parents want), but
allows parents who prefer "bilingual education" to seek a waiver for such an
option. Currently, "bilingual education" is more-or-less mandatory for all
12. What this initiative do to parent advisory committees?
The initiative will eliminate school district and school site advisory committees that allow parents of English learners to participate in designing, implementing, and monitoring the educational services offered to their children. The initiative thus takes power away from the parents and gives it to principals and school districts, many of whom already have demonstrated a failure or refusal to provide adequate services to English learners.
The initiative says absolutely nothing about parental advisory committees,
which can certainly remain in existence as "advisory" bodies.
13. How will this initiative affect teachers?
The initiative targets teachers and education officials for personal liability if they do not follow an English-only curriculum. That means that a teacher can be sued and forced to pay out of their own funds if he or she tries to help a student by speaking to them in a language other than English. Currently, teachers are not personally liable for acts done during the course of their employment. Penalizing teachers in this way may discourage people from pursuing teaching careers precisely at a time when California schools face a severe teacher shortage. It also undermines parental involvement by creating an adversarial relationship between teachers and parents. This is a unique intrusion of government into every classroom.
This is absolutely false. Section 320 merely states that teachers and
education officials who "repeatedly and willfully" refuse to obey the law and
allow parents the option of an English-language education for their schoolchild
can be sued by those parents. As defined in Section 306(b), speaking a little
Spanish in class doesn't mean an English-language education isn't being
provided, and the initiative sets a very high burden-of-proof for culpability.
However, teachers and officials who refuse to allow children to be taught
English can be sued by parents, and this is necessary to prevent these
individuals from refusing to obey the initiative.
14. Will this initiative save the state money?
No. The initiative does not eliminate funding for instructional services for English learners, and it allocates an additional $50 million per year to train adult tutors. The initiative may cost the state more than current programs for several reasons. Remedial programs will likely be necessary for students falling behind their grade level in core academic subjects as a result of the inadequate one-year English-only immersion program. In addition, where waivers require it, schools will have to run two instructional programs for English learners. Administering the onerous waiver procedure will also cost schools more. The personal liability disincentive will require schools to spend more money to recruit teachers. Finally, the state will spend more funding to defend the English-only program, which is likely to be challenged in court on several grounds. Such litigation ultimately could result in the loss of federal funds to the state of California.
The education of children who don't know English generally costs $300-$1000
extra each year. Under the current system of Spanish-only "bilingual
education," such children generally take 7 years to learn English. Under the
initiative, most of these children will learn English in just a few months to a
year. Therefore, hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved each year.
Since there is no federal legal basis for "bilingual education," there will be
no significant loss of federal funds. The non-partisan State Fiscal Analyst
has come to the same conclusion, suggesting that our initiative will result in
15. Will students still have the opportunity to become bilingual?
The initiative severely limits any opportunity to become bilingual. The elimination of bilingual education and the restrictions on teaching foreign languages in schools mean that learning a second language will be reserved for only the privileged few. In our global economy, more economic opportunities are available to those employees that can speak, read, and write in a second language as well as in English.
It is indeed important for children to become bilingual. The way a
Spanish-speaking child becomes bilingual is to learn English, the language
which they don't know rather than Spanish, the language which they already
know. By not teaching children to read, write or sometimes even speak English,
it is the current system which prevents immigrant children from becoming