Remember the passions that flared in California two years ago over the anti-bilingual education ballot measure?

Opponents called bilingual education an important tool for easing non-English speaking students into the mainstream. Proponents said bilingual education was a costly boondoggle, enriching districts with federal largess while stifling students.

Statewide test results are now in for California’s first year under the law, and they provide interesting fodder. Seems virtually every district in California used a provision of Proposition 227 that allowed schools to seek waivers to the law if enough parents felt bilingual education would help their children. But in Oceanside, near San Diego, district officials interpreted the law literally, pushing foreign-language speaking students onto an English immersion track. The result? Reading scores rose 56 percent for third graders and 475 percent for seventh graders.

Oceanside students for whom English is not the first language still scored below the 50th percentile on the tests. But that was nevertheless a dramatic improvement over past results.

‘Originally, I thought 227 was too extreme. There wasn’t a lot of evidence it would work,” Oceanside Supt. Kenneth A. Noonan, a former bilingual teacher and first president of the California Association for Bilingual Education, told the Chicago Tribune. “The results speak for themselves. This is not news the bilingual industry is interested in hearing.”

No, it isn’t. Those who raised all sorts of horror stories about the consequences of ending bilingual education are, predictably, downplaying the Oceanside numbers.

“It’s a completely flawed assessment tool for limited-English students,” Elena Soto-Chapa, statewide education director of the California chapter of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Tribune.

Perhaps. It’s always tempting to make grand pronouncements based on early or cursory data. But at the very least, the Oceanside experience deserves attention _ and should convince more than a few California districts to follow the Oceanside model rather than a watered-down version of Proposition 227.

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