California's bilingual education is out of control and it's time for a change

More than a million California children in California today do not speak English well enough to understand what is going on in the classroom and this tragedy can be blamed on the opponents of California’s Proposition 227, better known as the Unz Initiative.

Thirty years ago, when bilingual education programs were implemented, the stated goal was to help children learn English well enough to succeed in school. Since then, special interests groups, ivory-tower theorists and school boards have allowed those millions of children to “sink or swim” without any help. Meanwhile, they’ve experimented on a few hundred thousand students with dubious results.

All this time, bilingual education adherents have been given free reign to develop a multitude of language-acquisition programs ranging from English-as-a-Second- Language to Dual-Exit, a method wherein students are supposed to leave school fluent in two languages, usually Spanish and English.

Yet, according to a 1993 Little Hoover Commission report, there is no evidence that any of these methods have proven effective. Indeed, the report found there is no valid assessment system to track whether bilingual education works.

After 20 years, billions of dollars squandered and generations of children shoved through some kind of program, the state, the taxpayers, and more importantly — the parents — have no idea whether any of the bilingual education methods work and there’s been no accountability by anyone.

If one looks at an assessment method considered reliable — high school dropout rates — the federal government concluded in their 1995 High School Dropout report that Latino students who participated in bilingual education dropped out at nearly the same rate as students who did not receive any help.

Looking at other data, students kept in bilingual education more than three years fell behind their peers and failed classes taught in English and Spanish.

It’s time we strip away the emotion and rhetoric that has complicated the issue and acknowledge that California’s bilingual education program is a failure and out of control. It’s time for a change.

Instead of allowing a million children to “sink or swim” each day, Proposition 227, ensures that all 1.3 million English-learning children will get at least one year of help.

It does not eliminate bilingual education as the Prop. 227? opponents would have you believe. On the contrary, the initiative requires school districts to take into consideration the parents desires. Districts could then implement bilingual education if it met the needs of the students..

Critics say that the initiative is an “one-size-fits-all” adventure and takes away local control. Nothing is further from the truth. Local control on this issue was forfeited to the State Department of Education years ago which then promulgated its own “one-size-fits-all pedagogy called “native language instruction.”

The California Association for Bilingual Education, one of the chief opponents to the measure, argues that if Prop. 227 passes, children would be taught using an instruction method that is untested. In fact, the method — called “sheltered English immersion” — is actively promoted by CABE which sponsors training classes and teacher workshops to advance this method.

Nearly 120,000 California children are already being taught using sheltered English immersion, more commonly called by its practitioners, Specially-Designed- Academic-Instruction-in English. It is one of the methods that is state approved and receives Title VII (bilingual) funds from the federal government.

In addition, the initiative gives control to the most important group in America — parents.

The initiative was not created in a vacuum but rather was sparked by school officials ignoring the pleas of parents to place their children in classrooms taught in English.

Under the initiative, parents have ultimate control over their children’s education, over school board and the state’s bureaucratic bilingual education machinery.

Parents are assured their children will be taught in English. However, parents — should they choose — can demand bilingual education for their children. This means parents can choose whether they want English immersion or the most complex pedagogy available. On this point of parental control, the initiative should be supported.

Ron K. Unz, a co-sponsor of the initiative believes parents will opt for English-only and eliminate bilingual education in California. We’re not persuaded that is what will occur. However, Mr. Unz and the measure’s? other co-sponsor, Gloria Matta-Tuchman, have allowed parents to decide.

After three decades of ivory-tower academicians using children for their experiments, there is no valid reason to allow them to continue their costly failure. It’s time the voters take control and pass the model proposed in Proposition 227. In the end it will meet the needs of all 1.3 million English learners.

Comments are closed.