AARON BROWN: Twenty-five percent of students in California’s public schools, one out of four, not fluent in English. The question for Californians in the week ahead is what to do about educating those kids, how best to do it. Today, while they learn English, schools are teaching them everything else, from history to science to math, in their native language. But that could all change if, as expected, Californians vote in favor of Proposition 227, which would, in effect, eliminate bilingual education as it has existed for more than 20 years.
A dramatic change, and one thing both sides agree on, maybe the only thing they agree on, is that it would have dramatic ramifications. This morning, a look at Prop 227, beginning with ABC’s Carla Wohl.
CARLA WOHL, ABC News: (voice-over) If the United States is a melting pot, then California is where it comes to a simmer. One hundred forty languages are spoken here, more than any other place on the planet. The key to understanding each other was to begin with the children. The idea was to take students who enter California schools with limited English, a number now approaching 1.5 million, and eventually mainstream them into English classes…
1st TEACHER: Three times 20 rectangle.
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) … by first teaching in their native tongue.
2nd TEACHER: (Speaks in Spanish)
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) Three years ago, Mercedes de la Riva (ph) didn’t speak a word of English. Now she’s fluent.
MERCEDES de la RIVA, Student: I like it, because I learn very fast.
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) But this former principal says bilingual education is failing students.
HENRY GRADILLAS, Proposition 227 Supporter: You have these students that are immersed in Spanish. It’s not bilingual. Walk into the rooms and you’ll see that the entire rooms are plastered with nothing but Spanish placards. They teach the subject matter content in Spanish for three or four years before they begin to get into the English end of it.
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) On Tuesday, voters are being asked to support an alternate teaching plan, the so-called English for Children Initiative.
(on camera) Very simply, Proposition 227 would require that teachers teach in English. Those students not fluent in the language would get up to a year’s intensive instruction before being placed in regular classes.
(voice-over) But even those who believe in the immersion method say Prop 227 asks too much of children.
SUSAN MAHLER, School Principal: How in the world can we expect all children after one year to be ready to just transition over?
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) Still, opinion polls show that most Californians, including a majority of Latinos, support the measure.
Prof. RAUL HINOJOSA, University of California-Los Angeles: Proposition 227 is basically a reaction against the fact that there’s a demographic change occurring in the state, and that some people are very anxious about what this demographic change will mean.
CARLA WOHL: (voice-over) Whether Proposition 227 is a reflection of public fear over the changing complexion of California, or truly a needed fix in an overburdened education system, it seems destined to pass, though it likely will be challenged in court before it’s ever tested in the classroom.
Carla Wohl for Good Morning America Sunday.
AARON BROWN: Elaine Kim of Chinese for Affirmative Action joins us now from San Francisco. She is out organizing opposition to Proposition 227. And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by one of the co-authors of the proposition, Gloria Matta Tuchman, who for more than 30 years has taught first- graders in English-immersion classes there. Good morning to both of you.
ELAINE KIM, Chinese for Affirmative Action: Good morning.
GLORIA MATTA TUCHMAN, Co-Author, Proposition 227: Good morning.
AARON BROWN: Ms. Kim, I think to me, at least, one of the most intriguing things about this is the amount of support it has from Latinos who theoretically have been the largest beneficiaries of bilingual education. Why is that so?
ELAINE KIM: I think this has really been a campaign of misinformation. There’s a lot of myths around bilingual education and a lot of misunderstanding. And I think actually, if we look at the polls and we look at the numbers, as we get out to the communities, as we explain to people what this initiative really is about, that it will require, you know, their children to learn English in only 180 days, that after that they get no additional support, the numbers have been going down.
I think the same is — the same case applies for the Asian community. The numbers have consistently been going down. And the latest poll, I believe, is about 61 percent are in favor of 227, while a couple of months ago it was up as high as about 80 percent.
So I think it’s clear that, you know, the message is getting out.
AARON BROWN: Ms. Tuchman, I’m interested also in the fact that — I think you would concede that there are some bilingual programs that work, perhaps many others that don’t. Why are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Which is how it seems.
GLORIA MATTA TUCHMAN: I think it — well, I think it’s time, after 20 years in the state of California, after 30 years nationwide. We need to do something about teaching our children English, and this is not happening. I am not opposed to bilingualism or multilingualism. I am a Latina, I love being bilingual. But the point is, English for the children, that’s what this is about, how to teach the children in the most expedient way that we can.
And bilingual education has been failing children not only in this state but nationwide.
AARON BROWN: But this doesn’t change it, it eliminates it in a dramatic way. For example, take the English immersion, which sounds like a terrific idea, but for those kids who don’t get it in a year, they really are left out.
GLORIA MATTA TUCHMAN: Well, we put the word "normally not to exceed" in the initiative. That does not mean "shall," that doesn’t mean "must," it means normally not to exceed. At the end of the year, the children will be assessed. Right now in the state of California, we have all children to be tested in English. That is a mandate. At the end of the year, we will see if the children can go on into a regular classroom, or if they need more time.
That will be the parents’ option. This initiative is really parental empowerment at its finest.
AARON BROWN: Ms. Kim, I…
GLORIA MATTA TUCHMAN: Parents will decide.
AARON BROWN: Ms. Kim, I gather you see that "parents will decide" option a little bit differently. In 30 seconds or so?
ELAINE KIM: I do, I do see it really quite differently. I think if we look at what Proposition 227 does, it makes it clear that it’s not really about encouraging immigrant children and limited English-proficient children to succeed. If that’s what we really wanted, we would focus on the total academic success, including, you know, areas like history, like math, like science.
If we think of a student, a young girl, coming from China, she has knowledge in arithmetic, she has knowledge in geography. She comes to the classroom, the Proposition 227 classroom, and she can’t express any of that. She’s not allowed to, nobody understands her.
AARON BROWN: Elaine, I’m…
ELAINE KIM: All tat…
AARON BROWN:… I’m going to have to interrupt you, I’m sorry.
ELAINE KIM: OK.
AARON BROWN: But I think you get a sense of how complex the issue is. And if you want to know more about it, we hope you do, you can check abcnews.com. They’ve got a whole lot on the subject.