Here are answers to some questions about Proposition 227, the English for the Children initiative, and how it might work.

Q: What will happen to my child’s bilingual class?

A: Under provisions of Proposition 227, students who don’t speak English fluently will be placed in English immersion programs for a year before being transferred into regular English classes. If parents wish to have their children taught in their first language, they must request a waiver to place them in a bilingual program. If parents of at least 20 children at a school make similar requests, a class should be created. If not, parents have the option of sending their children to another school that offers a bilingual program.

Waivers are to be granted to three categories of students:

  • Those who are older than 10 and who may have more success learning English in a different type of program.
  • Those who have been placed in an English immersion program for a minimum of 30 days, who educators believe would be better served by a different program.
  • Those who already are fluent in English.

Currently, only 30 percent of the state’s limited-English-speaking children are taught in their native language in bilingual courses.

Q: Will two-way immersion programs be allowed under Proposition 227?

A: Two-way immersion programs, like the one at San Jose Unified’s River Glen School, are intended to simultaneously teach English-speaking students a second language and make non-English-speaking students fluent in English. These may be allowed under provisions of the Unz Initiative. But they would have to be altered in order to qualify.

Under the provisions of the Unz initiative, parents could petition to keep the program — but students who aren’t fluent in English would have to be placed in a sheltered English immersion program for the first 30 days before participating in the regular program.

Q: Does Proposition 227 affect high school foreign language courses?

A: No waivers will be required for students who already possess good English skills and score at grade level or above the fifth-grade level — as measured by standardized tests of English.

Q: Can teachers be sued if they speak to children in a language other than English?

A: Teachers unions and the opposition campaign have repeatedly said teachers can be sued if they use children’s native language in the classroom. But the language of the initiative does not appear to be that specific. What Proposition 227 does say is a parent or guardian can hold a teacher, administrator or school board financially responsible if their child is prohibited from enrolling in an “English language instructional curriculum.”

Q: Is there any research that supports the educational approach outlined in the Unz Initiative?

A: There is no research that shows students can master enough English in one year to function in a mainstream classroom, although there is research that shows English-only programs are effective. Studies say it can take students up to seven years to be fluent in English.

Q: Are there other alternatives available for schools that wish to offer bilingual programs?

A: Schools that wish to offer bilingual programs may apply to become charter schools. Gov. Pete Wilson recently signed a measure lifting the cap on thenumber of such schools in the state. Charter schools are independent public school campuses that are exempt from most of the rules and regulations that govern California public schools. They are overseen by their own boards and may adopt special focuses.

Q: Ron Unz says that bilingual education has a “95 percent failure rate” each year. Is this true?

A: Unz is referring to the “redesignation rate,” which is the number of limited-English-speaking students who are reclassified as “fluent English proficient” each year in California. Unz’s argument is that since only about 5 percent of students are reclassified as fluent in English each year, the system is failing 95 percent of the students. The number is misleading because it does not include the students who are in the process of learning English but are not yet ready to pass a test and be reclassified as fluent. Most programs call for students to study at least a portion of each day in their native language for three to five years before moving into mainstream English classes.

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