“English for Children,” a California proposal that would end bilingual education in that state, sounds well- meaning.

What parents in this country, after all, do not want their children to learn to speak, read and write English?

But the initiative, sparked by self-made California millionaire Ron Unz, likely will do more harm than good.

Californians will vote Tuesday on Unz’s proposal, commonly known as Proposition 227.

Students would be placed in a one-year “sheltered English immersion” program, then the safety net would be removed.

This one-size-fits-all approach assumes that all children can learn English at the same pace. Support available in traditional bilingual education would be removed, leaving many students to founder, learning neither English nor any subject matter.

Exemptions could be allowed for students whose parents request it. That’s not an easy endeavor, as those who have navigated bureaucracies can attest, and certainly not for parents who also have limited English skills.

Students would be restricted to speaking English in classes once they’ve left the sheltered program. Thus, California could return to the pre- civil rights era when language minorities, especially Hispanic children in the Southwest, were punished for speaking their native language. That simply must not be an option.

Unz’s proposal does, however, legitimately challenge the status quo, specifically, in this case, the cottage industry of bilingual education.

Educators in California readily acknowledge bilingual education has been ineffective there.

But Texans, before they draw lines in the sand, must understand that California’s situation is unique.

Texas has about 500,000 students who are not English-proficient. The number of such students in California has nearly tripled from 500,000 in 1985 to 1.4 million in 1997.

Subsequently, that state has an acute shortage of bilingual education teachers. As a result, teachers of English to language minorities often are unqualified. And, in a perverse effort to keep state funding, some schools there tap students for the program who don’t need it.

California also has few limits on the time a student spends in bilingual education, and little accountability.

Texas, meanwhile, allows the instruction up to sixth grade. Secondary school students take an English as a Second Language curriculum.

Unlike California, Texas’ bilingual-education students are tested annually to determine their progress.

Is Texas’ model perfect? Undoubtedly not. Educators in this state have no reason to be complacent about bilingual education. Neither do lawmakers who believe that because of their political clout, bilingual education is “safe.”

Proposition 227 should serve as notice of that.

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