Colorado Is New Battleground for Halting Bilingual Education

DENVER, June 19 ? Fresh off successful campaigns to end bilingual education programs in California and Arizona public schools, Ron Unz has turned his efforts to Colorado, where a local group announced plans today to collect signatures for a ballot initiative next year.

“Bilingual programs had great intentions, but they went far astray,” said Rita Montero, a former Denver school board member who is leading the statewide campaign for the group, English for the Children of Colorado. “Kids come back all the time and say they have really been hurt by this program. We want our kids to be successful. We’re tired of people holding them back.”

Efforts to end bilingual programs, in which students are taught in their native language as well as English for several years before moving into English-only classes, have gained some momentum around the country, through campaigns like those in California and Arizona, where some studies have shown that children are performing better in English immersion settings than they had been in bilingual programs. Voter approval of a ballot initiative ended bilingual programs in California in June 1998, and in Arizona last November.

Yet Mr. Unz, a California software developer who joined Ms. Montero at a news conference here, said he had been surprised by the relative lack of interest in other states and among federal lawmakers to end bilingual programs on a wider scale. He said his national organization, English for the Children, had discussed the possibility of helping with a ballot initiative in Massachusetts and suing to end bilingual programs in New York City.

Opponents of ending bilingual education say children immersed in English have difficulties with subjects like math and science. But Mr. Unz and other proponents say that weaning children off their native languages over a number of years stunts their overall academic development, leaving them grades behind.

Joseph C’de Baca, who has taught in the Denver public schools for 15 years, most recently social studies in a middle school, said bilingual education “keeps kids bi-illiterate,” adding, “The intentions were good, but it has been mismanaged and politicized, hurting instruction.”

For an initiative to reach the ballot in Colorado, supporters must submit valid signatures of 80,571 registered voters by three months before Election Day. Mr. Unz said two versions would be drafted ? one that would cost taxpayers almost nothing or even save money by ending bilingual programs and another that would provide $5 million for programs to help non-English-speaking parents learn the language.

Colorado law requires any initiative to address one subject only, and Mr. Unz said that if the two-part version did not withstand a legal challenge, the version ending bilingual programs only would go forward. An effort last year to end bilingual education with a ballot initiative failed after supporters were unable to submit signatures in time.

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