Bedtime For "Bilingual" Education?

California’s vote this month to end ‘bilingual’ education was a pragmatic response to a generally unsuccessful experiment.

THE PERILS of policy-making by plebiscite are richly illustrated by California’s fate in the two decades since voters there approved the famed Proposition 13. Far from a carefully crafted measure for real-estate tax relief, Prop 13 locked into place existing tax inequities, created new inequities – and, worst of all, propelled the slide of the state’s public schools and universities from among the best in the nation to among the most troubled.

Flawed as is Virginia’s plan to phase out local personal-property taxes, adopted under the old-fashioned system of gubernatorial proposal and legislative disposal, it is a model of flexibility and fiscal soundness compared with California’s Prop 13.

It would be a mistake, however, to decry the California electorate’s passage this month of Proposition 227 as a similarly unfortunate consequence of populist politics.

To be sure, in mandating a virtual end to “bilingual” programs that teach non-English-speaking children in their native languages (most often Spanish), Prop 227 denies educators the opportunity to undertake such programs on even a local, limited and experimental basis.

But the referendum played out as the education issue it should be, not the immigrant-bashing issue it might have become. Its sponsor, software millionaire Ron K. Unz, had opposed a 1994 proposition to deny government benefits to illegal immigrants. Prop 227 garnered thousands of votes from Hispanic parents who understand well the importance of English fluency for their children’s future.

In any case, the greater inflexibility has come from the boosters of ” bilingual” education. Their insistence on maintaining and expanding the programs seems immune to mounting evidence that immersion of non-English-speaking children in English is more educationally effective. It is they, not the skeptics, who first transformed what should be a pragmatic issue – what works best? – into an ideological crusade.

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