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The 1998 California "English for the Children" Initiative

(1) Immigrant education is a complete failure in California. Some 1.3 million California public school children---23% of the total---are now classified as not proficient in English. Over the past decade, the number of these mostly Latino immigrant children has more than doubled. California's future depends on these children becoming fluent and literate in English, and this is the official goal of the current system, centered on use of native language instruction, with English being introduced to children only in later grades (so-called "bilingual education"). Yet each year only about 5% of school children not proficient in English are found to have gained proficiency in English. Thus, the current system of language education has an annual failure rate of 95%.

(2) Latino parents want their children to learn English. Last year's survey by the Center for Equal Opportunity showed that Latinos overwhelmingly rate learning English as the top educational goal for their children, and by 4-1 favor their children learning English as soon as possible rather than learning Spanish before English ("bilingual education"). Adult immigrants are also eager to learn English (English courses are the top advertiser on Spanish language TV).

(3) Anti-bilingualism has become linked with anti-immigrant sentiments. There is a strong public perception that many opponents of "bilingual education" are using the issue as a cover for anti-Latino and anti-immigrant views. Unfortunately, this is often true. On the other side, private polling indicates that anger at "bilingual education" is a leading cause of anti-immigrant sentiment among California Anglos. Having individuals with strong pro-immigrant credentials lead the move away from "bilingual education" would help to decouple these two issues.

(4) California state politics is completely gridlocked on this issue. The legislation requiring "bilingual education" expired ten years ago, but political pressure and statutory interpretations have kept the system alive and growing during this period, with annual spending exceeding $300 million per year. Dozens of bills marginally changing the system have been proposed over these years, but none have become law. Given this history, it seems likely that the legislature will permit this failed policy to continue indefinitely.

(5) An initiative would break the impasse and change policy at a stroke. There is no significant basis in federal or state constitutional law for requiring "bilingual education". An initiative statute redirecting schools toward English language immersion for immigrant children would have immediate and sweeping effect. Such a ballot measure should be overwhelmingly popular, and pass quite easily (e.g. a decade ago, even the members of the Los Angeles teachers union voted 80% against "bilingual education"). A positive, pro-immigrant campaign could win a good majority of immigrant/Latino voters themselves, lending strong legitimacy to the results (e.g a 6/1/97 LA Times poll shows 83% of Latinos in Orange County oppose "bilingual education").

(6) Immigrant children would become fluent and literate in English. Research indicates that sheltered English immersion for young immigrant children is the most rapid and efficient means of English language acquisition. Within months to a year, the overwhelming majority of these young children would become fluent in English and could be transferred into a mainstream classroom, giving them the same educational opportunities as all other school children. This would have a tremendously positive impact on the future of California society.

English for the Children
212 E. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014
[email protected]