For the past thirty years in the State of California, bilingual education has been undertaken by all the public schools of the state. Under such system, children of non-American ethnic have had a special treatment in their early academic career. Children of minority groups have been thought various subjects in their native tongues. Such subjects are Math, History and some Science classes. The bilingual program presented the student a scholastic curriculum that simultaneously instructed students all the required classes while teaching them the English language. For such method, bilingual teachers were the focal point for the success of individual students of any class level.
Prior to Proposition 227, California's programs for immigrant students included English as a Second Language, in which students were taught the English language for part of the day, and bilingual education, in which students took classes taught in their native tongues until their English improved.
The bilingual educational system was legally first introduced by Governor R. Reagan in 1967. Reagan as Governor of California signed a bill eliminating the state's English-only instructional mandate and allowing bilingual education.
Proposition 227, that has reformed the thirty year old bill, has taken affect on June 2, 1998. The proposition introduces a new way of teaching the English language to immigrant children. Such proposition is also called "English for the Children" or simply the Unz initiative after its author and chief financial backer, Ron K. Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire and conservative Republican who has no children or background in education and has never set foot in a bilingual education class. "The Unz initiative calls for one year of courses taught in English, with an emphasis on learning the language; a system that many fear is a return to a past when children were sometimes punished for speaking Spanish, but that others say is a return to sanity" stated Don Terry in his article Bilingual Education Facing Toughest Test. In addition, one of the more controversial points of he plan involves a waiver system whereby parents who prefer "native-language" instruction for their children can request that the children be removed from the English-immersion classes. The request will be granted if they can find parents of twenty of more children on the same school who want the same thing. If they can not find enough parents, they are allowed to transfer to another school that will provide it.
Like many other initiatives or bills, Proposition 227 had raised many issues in the State and the entire nation. These issues vary from legal human rights, including freedom of choice, to political and social issues. In fact many argue that the issue of bilingual education has mainly been viewed as a political and social matter rather than an educational or pedagogy problem. In addition one of the strongest argument of the opponents of the bill is to call on racism to counter attack the views of its supporters.
Racism is in fact one argument that deserves a much closer look. About eighty percent of all non-English speaking students in California are Mexican or of Hispanic descent. Many feel that the Proposition will create a greater barrier for Latino children to become successful citizens in America. Mexicans have been the main source of cheap labor in America. The opponents of the Bill state that it will prevent Mexican children to fully learn the language, therefore preparing the student to meet greater challenges in school and eventually drop out of school. With a lesser level of education, therefore, the children will not be able to quality for the better, high-paying jobs, that are available to the white population. Such situation will enforce the myth that Mexicans and Latinos are "second class" citizens. Moreover, the Mexican communities and other opponents in California believe that Proposition 227 works in parallel with Affirmative Action and Proposition 187. According to Yleana Martinez "in 1994, voters easily passed Proposition 187, which cut benefits for illegal immigrants and, most recently Proposition 209, which ended Affirmative Action in state hiring and school admissions. Republicans rejoiced in those victories, but observers say that the latent anti-Latino temperament of these two measures has forced the party to undertake some damage control. Although they have tried to distinguish themselves from the racist temperament of these two previous campaigns, and although the top leadership still opposes it, the majority of the California GOP has endorsed the initiative". Regardless, the bill will strike mostly Latino families and schoolchildren. Such laws are leading the Mexican people of California to become more distant and less represented on all social aspect of our environment. All immigrant students entering public schools, is believed, will automatically start the so-called "americanization" process. To become American is the main outcome of migration to the United States. Slowly many immigrants are faced with the confusing problem of learning a new culture, the "American Culture". Needless to say, for an individual to become an active member of any new society, learning and integrating the local way of living is part of growing is the new environment. So it can be conclusive to state that one way or the other, immigrants will have to accept the fact that the need to "melt" in the American culture is imperative for them to be socially successful. Many multi-cultural citizens have accepted such natural response, however, many argue that it is important for them to maintain a sense of awareness and clear knowledge of their native culture and traditions. However, other argue, that this belief is the root cause of segregation among minorities in California and the rest of the nation.
On the other hand, most Hispanic parents want their children to learn English as rapidly as possible. "Some Latino leaders have tried to describe Unz's measure as immigrant bashing, but their case was weak. Indeed, all the polls showed that Proposition 227 had a strong support even among Hispanics.
Early opinion polls showed widespread support, including among Latinos, for eliminating bilingual education. But Latino support seemed to have shrunk with every new poll. In December 1997, according to the statewide Field poll, the overall support was sixty nine percent in favor and twenty four percent against.
Among Latinos it was sixty six percent in favor and to thirty percent opposed. In February, in a second Field poll, overall support was still sixty six percent in favor and twenty seven percent opposed. Among the Latinos it was forty six percent in favor and forty five percent opposed. State Senator Richard Polanco, the head of the Legislature's Latino Caucus, said he expected most Latinos to vote against 227" said Don Terry.
As stated earlier in California the debate went beyond pedagogy. "If you say you are against bilingual education, you're looked at as a racist," said Fontana High School teacher Melody Arganda. Because bilingual teachers get paid more, they're accused of being in it for the money.
Education has been seen as being the most important ingredient for the success of any individual in western societies. Without an adequate education, a person will more likely fall under a poor social class, not being able to get high-paying jobs, forced to work for minimum wages and struggle through life. Lack of education has also been one of the main reasons for the increasing rate of crime throughout the nation.
In addition to racial and social issues rising from the proposition, political and economical problems have also emerged. On April 27, 1998 the Clinton Administration announced its opposition to the California ballot initiative that ended bilingual education, saying that the President and other official would have actively campaign against it. The White House press Secretary Michael D. McCurry said the Administration opposed the initiative because it would have made it more difficult in Congress to defeat bills intended to end Federal support of bilingual programs and would jeopardize President Clinton's budget proposals to hire more teachers proficient in foreign languages. Few new political and social groups were born during the presentation of Proposition 227. Last September an organization was formed to fight the "English for Children" initiative. The committee included human rights groups, state teachers' unions, school districts, school board members, state lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties, and a handful of national and activist organizations. Such organization was called the "Citizens for an Educated America: No on Unz." The organization based its main arguments on the fact that they believed that the proposition was not going to fit all the schools systems in the State. The further argued that such "one-size-fits-all" program that treats all children the same, may rise more problems simply because the method may work in Los Angeles but not in Fresno. Another argument is the legal rights of the students. "Education is a right, not a privilege" argues the organization.
There has been, however, a mutual agreement from both sides of the issue that the bilingual education classes and the infrastructure of such system had been ineffective and poorly managed by many schools in the State. In fact, according to many articles published during the "high times" of the proposition, stated that the number of qualified bilingual teachers was dramatically small. Over twenty thousand bilingual teachers were needed in order to accommodate the 1.4 million students that were in bilingual classes in 1997-8 academic year. The need for professional and qualified staff emerged due to the fact that the number of minority children in California sharply raised in the decade. Such influx of student slowly caused the problem of quality education. Children were left without any guidance in their learning. Some were lost in the system and switched classes. Supporters blamed the shortage of qualified teachers on the lack of political and fiscal support for the programs. The problem became so serious that two years ago in Los Angeles, some two hundred Latino parents, led by bilingual teacher Alice Callaghan, became so angry at the unwillingness of administrators at the Ninth Street Elementary School to teach their children in English that they boycotted the school. Many of the parents were minimum wage garment workers. Some of those students had been in bilingual classes for six years and couldn't write a simple English sentence, which was not surprising since for some LEP (limited English proficient) students English instruction consisted largely of three hours on the playground and in the lunchroom "mi" with the English-speaking children. And since it was virtually impossible to find enough qualified teachers for the scores of languages that California's students bring to school, it was not unusual to find Korean or Middle Eastern students being instructed in Spanish.
For a generation, while federal law had required schools to provide special language instruction to assist English learners in obtaining an equal education, it was never mandated the form that such assistance should have taken. Peter Schrag explains in his article that "Since the seventies, a mixture of blind faith and administration arrogance had not only kept bilingual education afloat, but also made it unassailable. In their zeal to protect the program from any challenges, CABE (California Association of Bilingual Education), its ardent supporters had also consistently opposed any attempts to reform it. California's powerful teachers' unions (one of the Democratic Party's strongest constituencies) made the issue a mainstay of that state's liberal agenda. Because activists had early on identified bilingual education as the primary Latino civil rights issue, the equivalent of what busing was to blacks, foes and doubters of the program were routinely branded as racists". Unfortunately, this defensive posture insured that bilingual lobbyists were more concerned with preserving the program than making sure it was benefiting the children it served.
Often the objectives of the classes were confused, the quality of instruction was poor, and the criteria used to determine who got put into a bilingual class and when students were ready to "transition" into regular classes were murky.
Looking at the other side of the litigation, one can believe that Proposition 227 may not be the right answer to the past bilingual education system. Opponents of the bill argue that one year, as stated by the bill, is not enough for students, or anyone, to learn a brand new language. This time constrain will cause an even greater negative impact to all immigrant student. Researchers believe that students, once they have completed the one year English instruction, and that are not fully efficient with the language, will experience great challenges and problem in the "mainstream" classes. Understanding the lectures may become dramatically hard and consequentially result in lowers grades and the rise of dropouts among the minority groups. Loss of control, in local schools in California, is another problem that the opponents of the bill have presented. When Proposition 227 was introduced, many declared that the passage of such bill, would disable schools from choosing the ways in which subjects and classes are taught to students.
Researches and surveys have had been taken by various institution to determine the old and new status of the school system in California and few other states. A multiyear survey that was the largest ever of the children of immigrants found that they overwhelmingly prefer English to their parent native tongues and had higher grades and steeply lower school dropout rates than other American children. An even larger majority of them said that the United States was the best country to live in. Among the most striking findings of the bi-coastal survey of children from San Diego and Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in South Florida had to do with the contentious issue of language. While nine out of ten of the youths surveyed spoke a language other than English at home, almost eighty eight percent preferred English by the end of high school. In San Diego the children of immigrants had better grades than their American peers in every grade. The children of Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean parents had the highest grade point averages (A's and B's). English speaking West Indians had lower grades, C's and C+'s. Latin American and Haitian youths performed poorest, with averages that were slightly higher or lower than a C. The children of Cubans did worse academically that the children of Mexicans, who are one of the poorest immigrants groups in the United States and by far the largest immigrant group.
It is also imperative to realize that many researches conducted by the NRC (National Research Council), and by other Federal Agencies, were vague or perhaps not applicable. Arguers stated repeatedly that due to the various aspects of the issues, a specific analysis could have not been derived. There was not a clear way to measure the effectiveness of bilingual education. The reason was the fact that there were, and still are, many various different races and cultures in the public schools in California. Some cultures and students were more advanced than the others were. Some students found English relatively easy to learn and advance quicker that their immigrant peers leaving a gap which caused a problem to methodically measure the students academic performance. In addition, the type of English taught in such classes could not have been established. Parents and students complained that the English learned in such classes was not socially useful, the did not need to learn how to order food at a local fast food restaurant, a more complex and fully structured, professional perhaps, English was demanded by many parents. Question such as "Is the purpose only to get students into regular classes as rapidly as possible, or is the purpose also some form of Hispanic "cultural preservation?" developed.
Due to its size and diverse population California is now been viewed as a "experimental" model by many other states. California has the largest School District in the nation. In addition, it has the largest number of immigrants, mainly of Hispanic origins, that attend public schools. States like Florida, New York and Texas are closely looking at California, they already have started to present their own ballots and studies to whether or not change their school systems.
In particular, in states like Texas and Florida, where business and political leaders understand their regions' interdependence with Latin America, and where Hispanic voters are much more influential that they have been in California, there is considerably more tolerance for, and interest in, bilingual assets. Finally, another aspect of such change in the Californian school system that is closely watched, is the control of education in its school. Members of the Board of Education in California have argued that with the passage of Proposition 227, local schools have lost control over their suggested curriculums and programs. Schools will have to conform to the new law, and take whatever action needed to prepare their campuses by September 1998 to comply with Prop. 227. Such changes vary from the physical need for more or less chair per classrooms, to the re-assignment of teacher to teach certain subjects.
Today the law says to teach non-English-speaking students in special English immersion classes. Proposition 227, which passed with a sixty one percent majority, went in two effect on June 2, 1998 and it will take effect in sixty days from that date. School officials say that they can not comply with the Proposition when school starts in the fall, but they won't have to be ready. They believe it will be tied up in court for years, or they will get a waiver from the state board of education to continue bilingual education.
On June 3, 1998 a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco. To get an injunction, they must persuade US District Judge Charles Legge, a Reagan appointee, that their lawsuit is likely to win on the merits. Ron Unz wrote his "English for the Children" initiative to fit federal rulings, which say schools may use a variety of methods, including English immersion, to help students with limited English skills get an education comparable to other students. Almost certainly, Proposition 227 in constitutional, according to Joanne Jacobs of the San Jose Mercury News.
She further presents the reader with ways to make the Proposition work. "Ideally, California law would allow a range of choices, including high-quality bilingual programs that show results. Proposition 227 isn't ideal, but is the law. It's time to think about how to make it work".
The author further presents the following approaches to the new law. "Opponents of 227 claim it requires students to be mainstreamed after a year of special immersion classes, with no additional help in learning English or other subjects. State guidelines should take a sensible interpretation, letting schools mainstream students when they are ready, and provide whatever extra help is needed. The state board has jurisdiction over parental waivers foe children under ten with "special needs". The board should make it clear that "special needs' doesn't mean a child must be learning disabled, letting parents choose bilingual education if that is what they want. The Legislature also could help by passing a special appropriation so districts can buy English-language books, and train teachers to teach reading, math science and social studies to students who are not fluent in English. All California teachers are supposed to be trained in these techniques in the next few years; 227 makes this a priority. Switching students after thirty days will be a major headache. It would be a lot easier if parents who plan to seek a waiver were encouraged to enroll their children at the same school of schools, which could be staffed with bilingual teachers. The same teachers and administrators who bitterly opposed 27 will be the ones who will have to make English immersion work. Many sincerely believe it can not work, a belief that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Educators will have to put their personal feelings aside for the sake for their students. It will be very difficult, but there is no alternative. Like Proposition 13, Proposition 227 is a voters' revolt against the elites, reflecting enormous frustration with the status quo. It schools are perceived to be flouting the will of the voters, the backlash will be disastrous."
I personally came to the United States in 1988. I spent the fist eight years in Los Angeles and attended public High School in the City of Torrance. Coming to America, I had very little knowledge of the English language. I had finished all the high school level classes in Italy and was ready to attend College. However, when I came to America it was determined by my parents and the local school district that it would have been beneficial for me to attend one year (the senior year) in the local High School. I was enrolled into two English as a Second Language classes and simultaneously attended Algebra, "regular" English, and Economics classes. Now that I look back I can easily say that I had felt separated by all other kids, making friends was somewhat hard for me because of the language barrier; this applied to both type of classes the mainstream and the ESL's. I was the only Italian-speaking person, and therefore many fellow immigrants students and teachers thought I spoke Spanish. I found the English language somewhat easy to learn, moreover, I have to thank many of the English-speaking friends that I made back then to teach me the slang and spent time with me outside school. Mathematics and Economics were easy for me, I can say with confidence that I had one of the highest grades in comparison to my English-speaking classmates. The main problems that I had were the communication skills, both writing and speaking English proved to be the greatest challenge for me during that year. My need to communicate with others drove my incentive to master the language, within the first two years; many of my friends were surprised how well my English was. Despite the foreign accent, they had all agreed that my English was very efficient.
As an overall, I appreciate the year spent in High School learning the language, I believe that all new immigrant student should attend such classes. They have made a very positive impact in my life. In conclusion, I believe that all races should master the English language as quick as possible, for it is the essence of social integration that can lead to one success or failure of the "American Dream".