Joanne Jacobs, a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, opposed Proposition 227–the California initiative to end bilingual education–when it was on the ballot a couple years ago. But overwhelming evidence that children are now doing much better with speedy English immersion instead of bilingual teaching has changed her mind, and the minds of most other honest observers. After surveying the gratifying research findings, Jacobs wonders, “Where’s the party?”

The Mercury News recently did the first statistical analysis of the effects of Proposition 227. The newspaper studied the test scores of limited-English-proficient students for the 1998-99 school year (the first under Proposition 227), and compared them to the preceding year, and found that “except for fourth-grade math, there was more progress in every grade in the English immersion schools” than in schools that retained bilingual classes.

The level of improvement was dramatic: At Miller Elementary in San Jose, for example, second-graders’ reading scores leapt from the tenth percentile to the twenty-fourth. At Oceanside Unified in Southern California, which eliminated bilingual classes entirely, reading scores for limited-English second-graders rose in one year from the twelfth to the twenty-third percentile. The same students’ math scores jumped from the 18th to the 32nd percentile.

The stakes in this debate are large: One in four children in California’s public schools aren’t proficient in English. That’s one reason statewide test scores are miserably low.

Ron Unz, the Palo Alto businessman who led the charge against bilingual education, is ecstatic over this breakthrough: “After just seven months of the new Proposition 227 English curriculum, immigrant students have test scores 20, 50, or even 100 percent higher than those who remained in bilingual classrooms. If this isn’t outstanding educational success, I can’t imagine what is.”

Despite the striking advances in student achievement, reporters found that “most” teachers remain afraid to come out in support of English-immersion curricula over bilingualism–for fear of attacks from bilingual advocates. Yet in the long run, Unz insists, “few people will remain opposed to an educational change which provides a very real possibility of as much as doubling the educational performance of immigrant students over just a few years.”



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