IT’S hard to argue that California’s bilingual education program doesn’t have its flaws. What education program that blankets a state as large as ours doesn’t? But backers of Proposition 227 see bilingual education as more than flawed. They see it as a complete failure, which is why they have offered this ballot measure to the people. The initiative would require most students with limited English skills to be taught predominately in English, basically dismantling the current system. You could call it the “English Only in Schools” ballot measure. But as flawed as the program has been the past two decades, Proposition 227’s major problem mirrors that of the current system. Just as the state mandate — which expired in 1987 but continued to be required — dictated the use of bilingual programs, Proposition 227 orders the removal of such programs. Both ignore the individual needs and makeup of districts. Last month, coming off the heels of a state court ruling supporting individual districts’ decisions not to offer bilingual programs, the state Board of Education decided to lift the expired, across-the-board mandate on bilingual programs by granting local school boards the authority to decide what kind of bilingual program, if any, to implement. We said it then and we’ll say it again — the Board of Education’s decision is a compromise between the old state mandate and the dismantling Proposition 227 requires. In a state as diverse as California, no “one-size-fits-all” bilingual education program can be equally effective from Redding to San Diego. Some districts have a much larger portion of Spanish- or Mandarin-speaking students than predominately white districts. This is why local control over bilingual education — and other education programs for that matter — is so important. The polls right now show Proposition 227 to be winning favor with the general public, even in areas heavily populated by Hispanics, who feel their children are being pigeonholed into bilingual programs because of their ethnicity. However, released this past week paints a picture of conflicted voters when it comes to Proposition 227. According to a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, there is strong support for Proposition 227, but further querying revealed some interesting paradoxes. The PPIC report reads: “Among all voters, 76 percent support and 20 percent oppose Proposition 227. But despite this overwhelming support for eliminating bilingual education programs, 43 percent say they know ‘only a little’ or ‘nothing’ about current bilingual programs in public schools. And while passage of Proposition 227 would ultimately limit local control over bilingual programs, a majority (55 percent) say they favor leaving decisions about bilingual education to local school districts. A majority of Hispanics (57 percent) are in favor of Proposition 227, with 40 percent opposed.” As is often the case in politics, the general public seems to view bilingual education as an all-or-nothing issue. This is hardly the case here.
By voting “no” on Proposition 227 you are not necessarily supporting mandated bilingual education programs. Far from it. A “no” vote would support the status quo, in which decisions about bilingual education are being left in the hands of the local school boards.
Voting “yes” on Proposition 227 would remove local control and decision-making, just as mandates had done in the past. We see that as a giant step backward for the children of California.