In June, California’s voting public will be asked to decide whether to add Section 1 Chapter 3 to the Education Code of the State of California. This section is better known as the "English for the Children"; an initiative with Gloria Matta-Tuchman and Ron K. Unz as its proponents.
Mr. Unz is best known for challenging Pete Wilson for governor in the 1994 primary. Unz garnered 34 percent of the votes. Ms. Matta-Tuchman has specialized for more than 30 years in teaching students with limited-English-proficiency. She has a long and varied background dealing with issues related to education reform and has announced her candidacy for the office of California State Superintendent of Education.
"English for the Children", before ever qualifying for the ballot, became an emotional issue for debate. Groups formed on both sides of the issue. Three of the groups opposing the initiative are Citizens for an Educated America; No on Unz and California Tomorrow. In addition to the groups, there are many individuals and organizations opposed.
But when their arguments are analyzed and compared to the wording in the initiative, one wonders how these groups’ arguments were developed.
The opponents say that "1.38 million limited-English-speaking school children are to be put into one classroom — regardless of their differences in ages, cultural backgrounds and academic abilities — to be taught by a teacher who will be prohibited under threat of lawsuit from speaking to them in their own language."
The initiative reads "Local schools shall be permitted to place in the same classrooms English learners of different ages but whose degree of English proficiency is similar."Ý "Shall be permitted" is much different than "to be put."
There are other arguments against the initiative that don’t reflect its wording.
The initiative does allows local schools, districts and the state great flexibility.
Forgetting any arguments either for or against the initiative, let’s look at some of the actions that should be taken.
The initiative would require that all children be placed in English language classrooms. An "English language classroom" means that the language of instruction is overwhelmingly the English language according to the initiative. It never states that bilingual instruction is not allowed. In fact, there are several parental exceptions which allow primary language programs. If there is a school with 20 or more waivers at a given grade level, the school is required to offer bilingual education or allow the students to transfer to a public school in which such a class is offered.
At the elementary level, one class at each level — or combinations of grades such as k-1 or 1-2-3 — should be designated English language development classes. These classes should be taught by teachers trained in language development.
At the middle and high school levels, English development classes may be taught in lieu of language arts classes.
Parents with children enrolled in bilingual and/or English language development programs should be surveyed to determine their preferences for programs in the next school year. There is no reason to wait until the election to do the surveying. If there appears to be a demand for bilingual classes and there are 20 or more parents wanting bilingual education, a bilingual class should be formed. Policies should be developed to be used when enrolling new students. If there appears to be irregular numbers from school to school, perhaps considering one site for bilingual instruction or dual language instruction might be considered.
If there are 20 or more parents wishing bilingual education, a school district should feel obligated to offer the instruction or lose enrollment to other schools that do offer it.
At the same time, programs should be developed to provide adult English language instruction to parents who will be able to assist in the instruction of their children.
The initiative provides $50 million a year for ten years to "be provided through schools or community organizations." This funding is to be disbursed by the school boards to provide adult English language instruction.
The adults who are taught English pledge to provide personal English language tutoring to California school children with limited English proficiency. The school districts, by providing the training, could develop a well-prepared cadre of parents to help students who are in English language development classes.
Perhaps the suggestion should be for voters to read the initiative, not the arguments pro or con — and look for ways to create a positive situation for all students.
Mayan Avitable teaches English-as-a-Second-Language and Spanish. She has taught for 32 years. She is the author of "Language Acquisition Directory" and has an Masters in communications with an emphasis in socioliguistics.