George Louie thought his son’s plight would be settled by the overwhelming passage this June of an initiative ending California’s failed bilingual education program. He didn’t count on the education bureaucracy’s massive resistance campaign currently under way in that state.
Last year, Mr. Louie enrolled his African-American son, Travell, in an Oakland kindergarten. He was baffled to discover Travell was in a class whose teacher spoke in Cantonese. His request for a transfer was turned down because the heavily Asian school had no all-English kindergarten class. He sued, claiming Travell was being denied an equal education in his country’s native language.
State Judge Henry Needham Jr. ruled against Mr. Louie recently, saying that Proposition 227’s end to mandated bilingual education wasn’t at issue and that the district’s offer of free bus passes to another school over a mile away was sufficient. Mr. Louie, a single father with an artificial leg that’s plagued by infection, says he has limited mobility and he won’t put his six-year-old son on a bus alone. “Travell should be able to learn in English at my neighborhood public school,” he says. The Pacific Legal Foundation says it plans an immediate appeal on behalf of Mr. Louie.
Judge Needham recently punched another hole in Proposition 227. He ruled that the state Board of Education must consider granting waivers from Prop. 227’s requirement of English-only immersion classes to entire school districts and not just the individual parents specified by the initiative.
Other attempts to sabotage Prop. 227 are afoot. Latino parents have been told, paradoxically, that if they want their children to learn phonics (English alphabet and letter sounds) they must remain in bilingual classes. But the most imaginative dodge is occurring in the massive Los Angeles Unified School District. The district is allowing up to 49% of English-immersion classes to be conducted in Spanish, a violation of Prop. 227’s requirement that “nearly all” instruction be in English. Theresa Montano, head of the local union’s bilingual committee, tells teachers it is imperative they urge parents to demand waivers so their kids can stay in bilingual classes.
District officials deny any intent to subvert Prop. 227, and offer the Clintonian answer that “everything we’ve done has been determined to be legal by our legal staff.”
The tragedy in this thinly veiled civil disobedience is that there are real victims: the students. Sylvia David, a Hispanic mother from the Los Angeles area, lamented that her 8th grade brother had recently brought home his test results: 99% of students had done better than he had in reading and 98% had performed better in spelling. “I love to read. My brother was born in America just like I was,” Ms. David wrote. “We went to the same schools. The difference is, I didn’t get a bilingual education.”
There is now fresh empirical evidence backing Ms. David’s anecdotal experience. In 1997, the Orange Unified School District received a waiver from bilingual-education mandates that predated Prop. 227 by a year. Education analyst Kevin Clark has found that the district’s new English-immersion program significantly improved the language development of the district’s 5,000 limited-English students.
At the start of the 1997-98 school year, 38% of those students had little or no proficiency in English. By year’s end that number had fallen by half, to 19%. Mr. Clark concludes that “faster English learning correlates to faster and higher academic achievement.” That fact won’t surprise either parents who know it as common sense or economists who’ve shown that students trapped in bilingual education earn only 63% of what those enrolled in English-immersion programs earn.
Despite the resistance, Prop. 227’s message is already being heard elsewhere. Its author, entrepreneur Ron Unz, is helping Arizona parents with a similar ballot initiative. The Center for Equal Opportunity is challenging New Mexico’s law. Just as Prop. 13’s message of tax reform found echoes around the country 20 years ago, California’s rejection of mandated bilingual education is already having national implications. How the system will help bureaucrats and some teachers relearn respect for the law may be a larger problem.