As the campaign to eliminate bilingual education advances in Arizona, you will hear much about the success of California’s Proposition 227.

Proposition 227 is the initiative after which the Arizona ballot measure is modeled. California voters approved it by a huge margin in 1998.

Warning to Arizonans: Get your grains of salt ready.

For a discerning look at California in the post-227 era, please look at an April study by the University of California Linguistic Minority Research Center.

Of course, these folks will be dismissed as bilingual theorists or activists.

Their findings, however, are based on hard data and real case studies.

For instance, in California, only 29 percent of English learners were enrolled in classrooms taught in Spanish when the initiative passed.

That means it makes about as much sense to blame bilingual ed for the low academic achievement of English learners – since most of them were in classrooms where no Spanish instruction occurred – as it is to call all Anglos racist because a wacky few belong to the KKK.

In Arizona, we bemoan the failure rates of Latino English learners, yet nearly 70percent of them were not even in bilingual ed last year. Is this a failure of bilingual ed or just of education generally?

The California initiative specified that parents could request waivers that allowed their children to remain in bilingual ed. Yet only 67 percent of the districts statewide formally notified their parents of this provision.

In California, there was great confusion, as there will be in Arizona, about what English instruction meant. Is that merely 51 percent instruction in English, 60 percent or more?

But some of the saddest reading was the portion in which it was clear that many of the kids in the sheltered English-immersion classes created by Proposition 227 were merely parroting words, not necessarily learning their meaning or the language.

Pre-Proposition 227, many bilingual-ed teachers were on emergency credentials – a result of class-size reduction that created an instant demand for teachers that was hard to meet. That meant that the greenest teachers were teaching the kids with the greatest needs.

And about those test scores. I’d refer you to an analysis by Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education at Stanford University.

Hakuta’s analysis showed that the increases were across the board,
especially in second and third grades. That means kids still in bilingual ed – because their districts did adhere to the waiver provisions – had improved scores, just like kids not in bilingual ed.

This was the second year California tested with the Stanford 9. The improved scores in bilingual ed and elsewhere were inevitable as teachers learned to teach to the test.

Beware also of inflated claims. There are circulating claims of gains in test scores of between 120 percent and 180 percent in one showcase Oceanside school district.

Sorry. The scores in reading, math and language in all grade levels averaged between a gain of minus 1 to 14percent. That’s pretty good, but certainly no 180percent.

California is due to release its third year of Stanford 9 test scores this month. Sorry, these won’t tell the full story.

For that, we need to look at how kids who speak no English when they start school fare over several years in English-immersion classes.

The problem: We already know how that story ends. That’s why we invented bilingual ed.

Reach Pimentel at or (602)444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

For more information You can find the Language Minority Research Institute’s study of Prop. 227’s impact at

Stanford education professor Kenji Hakuta’s analysis of the Stanford 9 tests in California is at

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