LOS ANGELES – Opponents of bilingual education submitted petition signatures Thursday for a ballot initiative that would dismantle virtually all the bilingual classes in California and require that children be taught in English.
Leaders of the English for the Children campaign said they have collected more than 720,000 signatures. Only 433,000 signatures are required to qualify the measure for the June 1998 ballot.
If California’s voters support the initiative and eliminate bilingual education, "there’s a good chance that within two years bilingual education will be no more than a bad memory around the country," said Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley businessman who is spearheading the campaign.
The initiative would require that children be taught in English unless a parent requests bilingual instruction. Even newly arrived immigrant children would have only one year of "sheltered English" instruction.
Currently, students with limited English skills are taught primarily in their native languages, with perhaps one class daily in English, until teachers say their English is good enough for them to be mainstreamed, which can take years.
Among the harshest critics of bilingual classes are some Spanish-speaking parents who say their children are routinely tracked into such classes and never master English.
The initiative already enjoys overwhelming support among all races, income levels, ages and political leanings. A Los Angeles Times poll last month found 80% in favor; there was a slightly higher margin of support among Hispanic voters.
Unz recruited as the campaign’s honorary chairman the famed high school teacher Jaime Escalante. His success teaching calculus to poor Hispanic high school students in East Los Angeles was celebrated in the movie Stand and Deliver.
Escalante, who emigrated from Bolivia at 32, favors all-English instruction, he said Thursday, because "school prepares you for life. You educate yourself to integrate in this society. The way you do that is learning English."
Theresa Bustillos, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which opposes the initiative, said that putting students with limited English abilities into mainstream classes means they "are going to fall behind academically in math, science and social studies."