State PTA Joins Opposition to "English for the Children" Initiative

Education: Group's leadership attacks June ballot measure that would end most bilingual classes

The state PTA on Friday joined a growing list of education groups opposed to a proposition on California’s June ballot that seeks to end most bilingual teaching in public schools.

PTA leaders, meeting in San Diego, attacked the “English for the Children” initiative for forcing children who aren’t fluent in the language to take English-only classes “regardless of their individual needs.”

But the leadership of the 1-million-member organization did not endorse the status quo.

“We recognize that the reform of bilingual education is necessary,” PTA president Rosaline Turnbull said in a prepared statement. “PTA will continue to support the efforts of legislators trying to improve education for English-language learners.”

The initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron K. Unz and Orange County schoolteacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, has drawn national attention because California has 1.4 million students in its public schools who are not proficient in English–more than any other state.

Critics of the proposition, which has not yet received a ballot number, seized on the PTA announcement as the latest in a series of opposition statements by influential education groups. Other opponents include the California Teachers Assn., the California Federation of Teachers, the California School Boards Assn. and the Assn. of California School Administrators.

“It’s terrific,” said Kelly Hayes-Raitt, spokeswoman for the No on Unz campaign. “The PTA is right on target. The Unz initiative removes parents’ ability to choose what kind of education is best for kids on a local level.”

Unz said he was not surprised.

“It’s one of these large establishment state organizations that generally goes along with these other large establishment state organizations that have previously come out against our initiative,” Unz said. “I think that the overwhelming majority of parents and teachers in California support what we’re doing.”

Proponents of bilingual education say it is the best way to help many students stay afloat as they learn English. Critics say it holds them back.

More than half of all school districts with limited-English students do not offer them formal instruction in their native language, in part because of a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers.

Legislative efforts to overhaul state bilingual education rules have foundered in recent years. The PTA has endorsed a bill by state Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) that would give local educators more flexibility to choose their own teaching method.

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