Californians voted in overwhelming numbers for Proposition 227, the English for the Children initiative, because they rightly understood that the bilingual approach to teaching children whose first language is not English simply didn’t work. The misguided bilingual approach dictated that these children (“English language learners” in education-speak) would learn to read and write in their native language and then, at some future time, “transition” to English.
Unfortunately, the “transition” to English never worked very well for most of these students. Many of them ultimately dropped out of school without being able to read or write Spanish very well, much less English. The English for the Children initiative addressed this problem by requiring students whose first language is not English to be taught in English “immersion” rather than the failed bilingual approach. Proposition 227 did make a provision for waivers in some instances, but required these students to spend the first 30 days of each school year in an English immersion classroom.
Now we have results from the first post-Proposition 227 statewide test structured to evaluate English fluency among more than 1.5 million California public school students.
While cautioning that the results are preliminary, state education officials reported that the test shows that students who have remained in bilingual education programs didn’t fare as well as those in English immersion programs. Students in immersion programs were nearly three times as likely to score in the “advanced” or “early advanced” fluency categories as bilingual students.
Recently, though, the state Board of Education has promulgated regulations that undermine the initiative. The most damaging of these proposals would allow teachers and principals to “recommend” waivers to parents.
The effect of these changes would be to formalize what has already been occurring: i.e., school personnel who represent the bilingual lobby advancing their own agenda of failed education for students who don’t speak English.
They often do this by convincing parents that the children will eventually learn English (which all parents want) and still retain their cultural and linguistic roots if they are kept in bilingual classes for several years.
The clear implication is that the choice of immersion will result in the loss of culture, heritage and language. This manipulation of parents has already resulted in a very uneven implementation of the initiative.
These regulations would not only violate the voter approved initiative; they also would deny non-English speaking students the opportunity to fully participate in our society as English-speaking American citizens who can fully realize their own potential. The rest of us would lose the benefits of their talents by relegating many to low-paying jobs with little future, or the problems of welfare, gang participation, etc.
In order to more fully implement the English for the Children Initiative, Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Vista, introduced AB 2711, which would disallow overt recruitment of parents to request waivers and mandate a written description of a legitimate educational reason for granting waivers. The bill would further require the state Department of Education to monitor and enforce the language of the initiative requiring that English learners shall learn English by being in English-speaking classrooms.
On April 24, AB 2711 was heard in the Assembly Committee on Education. Testifying in support of the bill were “English for the Children” author Ron Unz and Oceanside School District Superintendent Ken Noonan. Succumbing to pressure from the bilingual and teachers’ union lobbies, the committee’s Democratic majority voted to kill the bill.
Assemblyman Wyland intends to renew this effort next year. It is essential that we resist those who would deny the will of the voters and, in the process, impede the educational progress of more than 1 million youngsters from non-English speaking families.
Wyland represents the 74th District in the Assembly, which covers north central San Diego County. Noonan is superintendent of the Oceanside School District.