In campaigning for Proposition 227, supporters said the initiative was necessary to protect parents frustrated by a lack of choices — those whose children were labeled limited-English-proficient (LEP) and stuck for years, against their will and to their academic detriment, in Spanish-language classes. Now Proposition 227’s proponents seek to limit the choices of other parents — those who had voluntarily placed their children in successful bilingual programs.
Two Orange County school districts have requested permission from state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin to establish alternative schools offering “dual immersion” programs, where instruction is in both English and Spanish. The state Board of Education, meanwhile, has ruled that charter schools, which operate independently of many state Education Code mandates, may also offer bilingual education programs. So far, no bilingual school charters have been proposed.
Both bilingual alternatives are modest choices that would have little effect on the initiative’s sweeping requirement that California’s 1.4 million children with limited-English skills be given “nearly all classroom instruction” in English. Before initiative supporters cry foul, they should consider the limited scope of these efforts and, as important, the parental involvement required for participation in each.
Alternative or “magnet” schools are aimed at offering choice within the public school system; parents must choose to send their children to such schools, often sending them long distances for special programs. If parents can opt for a science-based, back-to-basics or arts-focused magnet school, why not one that offers bilingual instruction, as long as the academic curriculum is sound, and students are required to achieve English mastery as well?
Proposition 227’s sponsors — who are hoping co-sponsor Gloria Matta Tuchman will unseat Eastin in November — claim Eastin has no authority to grant waivers to alternative schools. They say waivers can be issued to LEP students only on an individual student basis, and only after a child has attended an English immersion program for at least 30 days “to ensure that the child has a basic knowledge of English.”
Then, presumably after the child has settled into an English-only curriculum, a parent determined to choose a bilingual alternative school must go through the cumbersome process of applying for a waiver. The regulations for doing so are so burdensome they virtually guarantee that the overwhelming majority of LEP students who were once “stuck” in bilingual programs will now be stuck with English-only.
Instead of putting their energies toward assuring failure of proposed alternatives to Proposition 227 mandates — even those that are parent-driven — the initiative’s backers should work to see that the hundreds of new, hastily planned English-only programs succeed. There’s plenty of work to accomplish on that account, and students left without choices under Proposition 227 deserve that it be done.