When the “English for the Children” initiative first appeared on California’s horizon, many instinctively thought the state was in for another bruising, divisive campaign. Prop. 227 would put strict limits on bilingual education. There was concern it was cut from the same cloth as Prop. 187, which hit programs for undocumented immigrants, and Prop. 209, which cracked down on affirmative action.
The expectation was wrong, though. The abrasive public dialogue never developed. Polls, in fact, show the measure pulling strong support among Hispanic voters as well as the electorate at large, and for a single reason: There’s a broad perception that bilingual education, as California has tried it in the ’90s, has flopped. The state never has come close to recruiting the bilingual teachers it needed to make the vision work. Too many kids languished with sub-par English skills, and consequently sub-par prospects, after one year, after two, after three. What parent wants that? Something, many agree, needs to be done.
If only Prop. 227 was that something. But it’s not.
Prop. 227 mandates a full-immersion program in English instruction for most students, and an end to most bilingual instruction. One year is alloted for the transition in most cases.
So the measure has the appeal of the quick fix. Its fatal flaw is that it’s also a too-simple fix. Prop. 227 would impose a single template on every school, in every community, in the state. That’s not going to work. Riverside is not Coachella, Redlands is not Rialto, Murrieta is not Moreno Valley: Every community has different needs, different resources and elected school officials who ought to be the first resort for these reforms. All four major gubernatorial candidates, Democrats and Republican, oppose it. Even the Orange County communities that sought to stage a bilingual uprising oppose Prop. 227 for its rigidity. They want to design their own fix.
At that, Prop. 227 also is an untested solution. It’s an experiment, a gamble. We should all have had enough of that kind of thing here. What’s wanted is something that will work.
In fact, this year the State Board of Education lifted the yoke of bilingual compliance from local districts, and the Legislature approved a bill that sought to give the districts new freedom to explore alternatives. Pete Wilson vetoed that bill last week as too-little, too-late.
And of course the governor couldn’t resist a dig at the Democrat-controlled Legislature for not doing something sooner.
This governor will go out throwing elbows under the basket. It’s his nature. It helped put a nasty edge on those past debates. To Californians’ credit, they have resisted that tone this time.
This time, perhaps, there is a sense of maturation in the public discourse, a sense that most Californians at last are on the same page in this – together in wanting English skills for success; in wanting something better for our children. There’s also a sense that the governor and Legislature, and perhaps even popular cultural leaders, missed this evolutionary turn.
We are willing, though, to believe this evolution of attitude will continue as we learn what works and what doesn’t. It will not profit us to be laced into this Prop. 227 straitjacket even as we’re growing out of it. We recommend a No vote.