It Only Looked Dead — California Faces Bilingual Education Rerun
October 14, 2016, 04:30 PM
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California voters must grapple with 17 state initiatives to be decided in this November’s election — the Voter Information Guide is a thick tome of 222 pages to explain all the details. (I will be consulting the voter guide from the John and Ken radio show when decision time gets closer.)

Sadly, California voters must re-decide an issue that was thought settled in 1998 when 61 percent of voters rejected bilingual education via Prop 227. Now the usual suspects have conjured up a rewrite, hoping that voters have forgotten the common sense of teaching all children, regardless of ethnic tribe, to speak English in America.

Another item that has gone down the memory hole was the support of immigrant families back in the mid-1990s for English language instruction; in fact, dozens of hispanic parents boycotted their kids’ Los Angeles school because the families wanted English to be the language in classrooms, not Spanish.

So it wasn’t a case of meanie conservatives insisting on English: the immigrants actually wanted to assimilate and help build a better future for their kids.

But now bilingual is back. Too many people want to Mexicanize America by making Spanish equal to English. The New York Times remarked in an article today that “job postings across California routinely require applicants to speak Spanish” (“This city is 78 percent Latino, and the face of a new California”). That’s the way things go when a nation has open borders facing an aggressive third world.

The San Jose Mercury News had a front-pager on Wednesday, implying that the proposition is something of a yawner, with not much interest.

The article notes that 22 percent of students are in English as a second language classes. But 54 percent overall are Hispanic.

Bilingual education battle revived in Proposition 58, San Jose Mercury News, October 11, 2016

SAN JOSE — When Palo Alto software entrepreneur Ron Unz led a campaign to ban bilingual education 18 years ago, California erupted in an acrimonious debate that drew national attention, with proponents expressing fears about the decline of English and opponents charging racism and predicting an educational Armageddon.

But today, in a sign of the Golden State’s dramatically changing demographics and politics, the campaign to roll back the “English-only” Proposition 227 seems low-key and uncontroversial, overshadowed by a bevy of hot-button ballot initiatives and the emotionally charged presidential race.

Through Proposition 58 on the November ballot, bilingual education proponents seek to permit public schools to teach in languages other than English, without securing explicit parental permission, as is now required.

A recent Field-IGS Poll showed that Californians overwhelmingly support the measure. But when they find out what the ballot language omits — that it would reinstate bilingual education — that support turns to opposition.

The proposition’s author, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, says the measure will help prepare students for jobs in a globalized economy. “We already have a natural reserve of children speaking other languages,” he said. “Why not help promote learning their native language?”

Lara insists he doesn’t advocate returning to the pre-Proposition 227 days, when many immigrant children were taught for years in Spanish, often without their parents’ permission or knowledge, and went on to struggle in English.

“All kids should learn English,” Lara said. “What we’re questioning is the method we use to get there.”

Proposition 58’s opponents, however, argue that English-teaching shouldn’t be delayed, and they emphasize what’s commonly observed: The younger the children, the easier and faster they learn English. And, the opponents say, parents have the right to know if their kids are placed in a class taught in a foreign language.

If Proposition 58 passes, “we are going back to a system that will ghettoize children,” said Kenneth Noonan, a retired Gilroy and San Diego schools superintendent and former bilingual education leader who now sees its failings. “It’s just not right.”

After eliminating bilingual education in his Oceanside school district, Noonan said, reading scores of second-grade English-learners grew 100 percent.

Bilingual education already has crept back into California schools because of legal provisions that allow parents to sign waivers to place a child in non-English classes. San Jose Unified School District offers bilingual classes in 14 elementary and middle schools, Mount Diablo Unified in six schools. In particular, programs that immerse children in a foreign language from kindergarten have become popular among parents of English-speaking children.

Proposition 58 could have a significant effect on the 22 percent of California’s 6.2 million students in public schools who are learning English as a second language.

Many parents see the measure as a way to make it easier to start teaching their children in their native language because schools won’t have to get signed permission to do so. “Our children will begin learning academic concepts without losing months” in English-only classes in which they hardly understand a word, said Jacqueline Garcia, a mother of three children at McKinley Elementary School in San Jose. And, she added, children learning in their first language can get help from parents who don’t speak English. “It’s always better when parents can be involved in their children’s studies,” she said.

Proponents also say it will promote bilingualism – which they say is becoming increasingly vital in business. “It’s a good idea, absolutely,” said Frank Guerrero, father of a fourth-grader in a Spanish immersion class at San Jose’s Willow Glen Elementary. He, his wife and son are all bilingual.

Teachers unions, the state school boards association, the state PTA, Gov. Jerry Brown and a slew of Democratic politicians all back Proposition 58. Proponents have raised about $1.9 million as of Tuesday, much of it coming from the California Teachers Association and other unions.

That has left Unz, who spearheaded Proposition 227, waging a lonely campaign to protect the status quo. The Republican and Libertarian parties have signed on but aren’t contributing any financial support. Unz hasn’t reported raising any money for a campaign.

Unz staunchly sticks by the benefits of English-only teaching. Proposition 227, he said, “is one of the very few totally successful ballot initiatives in the history of California,” he said. “Everybody knows it’s very, very easy for children to learn English at a young age.”

In June 1998, his initiative passed overwhelmingly, winning more than 61 percent of the vote. And rather than the predicted educational disaster, he said, state test scores of English-learners rose substantially.

Bilingual-education proponents, however, point to a George Mason University study from 1998 to 2000 that showed that the switch in teaching methods did not narrow the wide achievement gap between English-learners and native speakers.

Proponents favor so-called dual-immersion schools, which have spread throughout the state, including in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Mateo, Oakland and Concord, according to multilingual-education consultant Claudia Lockwood. Most of the 430 schools are Spanish-English, but others teach Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, German or French.

Unz contends that Proposition 58 is backed by dual-immersion Anglo families, who need a certain number of Spanish-speaking children for their program model to work. Eliminating the current requirement for parents to sign waivers makes it easier to populate those programs, he said.

Educators, however, see the waivers as impeding bilingual classes, especially when skeptical parents have to be convinced to sign up their children.  “It is a tedious process,” said Jose Espinoza, director of English-learner services for the Mount Diablo district.

But critics of bilingual education say parents are right to feel uncertain.

Isabel Ocampo says her older daughter had attended a Spanish immersion program in Redwood City from kindergarten. A native Spanish speaker, she reached middle school struggling in English and math, said Ocampo, who then decided to pull her younger daughter from the Spanish program.

“It is important to be bilingual,” Ocampo said, “but it is more important to know what you’re doing. I can’t sacrifice one thing for another.” PROPOSITION 58 What it would do: The measure would rescind provisions of California’s “English-only” ballot measure that limited bilingual education. It would also allow schools to teach in foreign languages without getting the explicit permission of parents, as is is now required.

What supporters say: “English-only” classes have failed to adequately teach students learning English as a second language; California needs to produce more multilingual students.

What opponents say: Bilingual education failed to teach immigrant students English; parents should have more of  a say as to which language their children are taught.

How much money is being raised? Proponents collected $1.9 million as of Tuesday. The opponents have not reported raising anything.

To read more arguments in favor of Proposition 58, go to

To read more arguments against Proposition 58, go to