National commission opposes anti-bilingual measure

The presidential panel says it would impair chances for success in educating students with limited English skills.

CLAREMONT—A national panel on education of Hispanics met Friday in California to join the fight against Prop. 227, the anti-bilingual education initiative on the June ballot.

A resolution adopted by the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans states that the ballot measure would “impair chances for success” in educating students with limited English- skills. The resolution also said the measure runs “contrary to the best research. “

Members of the 24-person panel appointed by President Clinton left Washington for the first time to announce opposition to the measure proposed by software millionaire Ron Unz.

“We believe that what the Unz initiative is proposing is not good policy,” said chairwoman Ana “Cha” Margarita Guzman, vice president of Austin Community College in Texas.

The commission’s executive director, Sarita Brown, will give the resolution to U. S. Education Secretary Richard Riley next week. Panel members asked her to urge Riley to tell Clinton, who has not taken a position on the measure, of the panel’s strong feelings against it.

Ruben Zacarias, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, abstained, saying his district’s policy prohibited him from taking a political stance.

The panel had invited Unz to attend Friday’s meeting at Pitzer College, but Guzman said Unz declined the offer.

Sheri Annis, an Unz spokeswoman, said the panel waited until late last week to issue its invitation. Unz already had scheduled media interviews in Northern California and could not cancel his plans for what the panel said would be a 10-minute speech, Annis said.

The commission’s 14-0 vote came as no surprise to Annis.

“These are people who for years and years have been very pro-bilingual,” Annis said. “There is strong support among the Latino community, which has had to suffer through bilingual education for 25 years. “

The measure would place children learning English for about one year in classrooms where “nearly all” instruction is in English. After that, pupils would move into regular English-speaking classrooms. Educators who do not follow the measure’s provisions could be sued. Parents could seek waivers.

Commission members blasted the initiative, saying it would outlaw successful bilingual programs, proposes an untested teaching method and forces schools to teach all English learners the same way.

Harry Pachon, panel member and president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Claremont, said problems begin with the initiative’s name and slogans: “English Language Education for Immigrant Children” and “English for the Children,” respectively.

“It sounds innocuous enough,” said Pachon, whose institute hosted the meeting. “It’s no wonder we’re getting that 70 percent approval. “

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