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Life After 227:
The Struggle Continues

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A Few Numbers That Ron Unz Would Prefer You Didn't See

What Can We Learn About the Impact of Proposition 227 from SAT-9 Scores?  – Stanford researcher Kenji Hakuta and his colleagues show that Ron Unz's claims about the "success" of English-only schooling have no scientific basis

Hakuta's explanation of his research for news media representatives

The Campaign Against Proposition 227: A Post Mortem
by James Crawford
Bilingual Research Journal 21, no. 1. 

Disaster at the Polls
Chapter on Prop. 227 from James Crawford's
Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom, 5th ed. 

What Now for Bilingual Education?
Report on the Prop. 227 campaign and its aftermath
by James Crawford
Rethinking Schools, Winter 1998/99 

Final Campaign Finance Reports for June Primary: 
No on 227 Outspent Unz by Nearly 5-1

Speak theTruth About 227, by John Espinoza 
Teacher criticizes failure to inform L.A. parents of their rights

The Bilingual Education Story: 
Why Can't the News Media Get It Right?

by James Crawford

Implementing Proposition 227: Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
by California Rural Legal Assistance, 
the Association of Mexican American Educators, 
the California Association for Bilingual Education, and 
the California Latino Civil Rights Network


The Case Against Proposition 227 – Plaintiffs' legal brief 
requesting a preliminary injunction

Response by Ron Unz (One Nation/One California) et al.

Declarations by Plaintiffs' Authorities 
Lily Wong Fillmore & Kenji Hakuta

Declarations by Defendants' Authorities 
Charles Glenn, Rosalie Porter & Christine Rossell

Federal Court Decision Refusing to Delay the Effective Date of Proposition 227

Passage of Proposition 227, by a 61-39% vote in California's June 2 primary, marks the worst setback for bilingual education since the World War I era. Already the political ripples are reaching other states and the U.S. Congress, where similar proposals are being debated. For example, H.R. 3892, would gut the Bilingual Education Act and impose arbitrary time limits on programs for English learners.

Yet the initiative's legal status and practical impact remain unclear. Prop. 227 may be struck down in federal court. If it does take effect, the damage may be modest or short-lived. Or it could be as devastating as opponents have predicted, disrupting the schooling of millions of children. We simply will not know until the dust settles – a process likely to take months, perhaps years.

On the brighter side: 

  • Litigation is under way to block the English-only law. Civil rights advocates are raising strong legal and constitutional objections, although their petition for a preliminary injunction to delay the effective date of 227 (August 2, 1998) was denied.
  • Interpretation of the law remains in flux, with state and local officials looking for loopholes in its loosely worded provisions. For example, if "waivers" are permissible for children with "special physical, emotional, psychological, or educational needs," why shouldn't limited English proficiency qualify as a "special need" – thus preserving parents' right to choose bilingual instruction? 
  • Another type of waiver could be granted by the State Board of Education to any school district that shows English learners would be adversely affected by the law's "one size fits all" approach. 
  • Resistance to 227 is growing. More than 1500 teachers in Los Angeles have signed a pledge to commit civil disobedience rather than restrict instruction to English only. Supt. Bill Rojas of San Francisco has vowed to go to jail rather than dismantle successful programs for English learners. High school students, including Latinos who benefited from bilingual education, have staged walkouts in numerous communities.
  • Reconsideration by the voters or the California legislature is possible if – in the worst-case scenario – 227 does take effect. Reassigning 1.4 million English learners to regular classrooms after an inadequate, one-year "sheltered immersion" program would create chaos for all students. How long until parents revolt? 
On the darker side:
  • Charles Legge, the federal judge assigned to hear the case against 227, is a Reagan appointee who is counted among the most conservative jurists in California. Thus he is considered unlikely to intervene as a "judicial activist" on behalf of language-minority parents – as shown by his quick refusal to delay the initiative from taking effect.
  • Because the initiative is unprecedented in many ways, a creative interpretation of civil rights law may be needed to overturn it. For example, protections for racial and ethnic minorities do not always extend to language minorities (still a blindspot in U.S. views of human rights). To prevail, a challenge to 227 might have to set entirely new precedents.
  • Several districts reportedly have no plans to implement the initiative, preferring to seek waivers from the State Board of Education. But the current board, appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, has asserted that it lacks the authority to approve such requests. On July 1, it rejected a request to give districts more time to redesign programs in compliance with the initiative. On July 9, it issued emergency regulations citing considerable "flexibility" for districts to grant parents' request for bilingual instruction.
  • Efforts to resist 227 by students, teachers, and administrators are being actively discouraged by Supt. Eastin, Los Angeles Supt. Ruben Zacarias, and California Teachers Association president Lois Tinson. 
Lessons of 227

After a generation of research and practice, bilingual education's pedagogical rationale is well established. But its political rationale is increasingly tenuous. Years of failing to respond effectively to ideological attacks have taken their toll on the program's public support.

This is an urgent problem that must be addressed before the English-only cancer spreads. Now that the 227 campaign is over, it is possible to candidly discuss questions like:

  • Why did Ron Unz's demagogic claims – e.g., that bilingual education has "failed" – win wide acceptance among the voters, the news media, and even political leaders who opposed 227?
  • Why was the No on 227 effort so disorganized and ineffectual?
  • Why did advocates for language-minority students have so much difficulty in getting their message across?
  • What must be done to resist 227 in California and continuing attacks on bilingual programs nationwide?
The point of such a discussion is not to assess blame, but to learn from mistakes. A painful process, but a necessary one. To remove politics from the classroom, bilingual educators must master politics in the public arena. 

Watch this space.

News Clips, Editorials & Documents
(no endorsement implied)

Latest Developments and Commentaries

  • EDITORIAL: Teachers Show the Way– Based on nothing but a handful of anecdotes, the Times returns its verdict: Prop. 227's "initial results are encouraging. ... [S]ix months after the law took effect, something appears to be working. It goes to show that little miracles can occur in the classroom when children's needs are put ahead of adult agendas." One has to wonder what agenda the Timesis promoting when it argues from no objective evidence whatsoever. Normally merciless about the failings of the Los Angeles schools, its editors have misplaced their critical faculties when it comes to the anti-bilingual law. 

  • Los Angeles Times, 17 January 1999
  • L.A. Students Take to English Immersion– An unscientific "progress report" on Prop. 227 quotes a few teachers on how English learners are performing better than expected. The story mainly demonstrates how school personnel are eager to show they are doing their best under a difficult situation.

  • Los Angeles Times, 13 January 1999
  • Adult School Given Boost – New law's $50 million for English classes begins to arrive in school districts.

  • Riverside Press-Enterprise, 4 January 1999
June-December (1998) News & Editorial Archives

The Vote

Litigation & Interpretation
    Emergency Regulations for Implementation of Prop. 227 – Adopted by the California State Board of Education, 9 July 1998

    The Case Against Prop. 227 – Plaintiffs' legal brief requesting a preliminary injunction, 10 June 1998

    Declarations by Plaintiffs' Authorities 
        Lily Wong Fillmore – One year of English-language instruction "is not enough to allow [LEP students] to survive, much less compete, in school without substantial further specialized instructional assistance."
            1998 study of the time required for children to acquire academic English: 223 of 239 LEP students in Northern California scored at or below the 7th percentile in English after one year of "sheltered" instruction.
        Kenji Hakuta – "There is ... absolutely no credible research that [approaches mandated by Proposition 227] can provide children with meaningful access to the subject-matter curriculum which is required for graduation" from California schools.
            Rebuttal of testimony in support of Proposition 227 by Rosalie Porter, Charles Glenn, and Christine Rossell: These witnesses offer "several major misrepresentations of research," including distortions of a National Research Council report chaired by Hakuta.

    Declarations by Defendants' Authorities
        Charles L. Glenn – "Proposition 227 provides for a one-year period (in most cases) of intensive English-language instruction and a rapid transition into a regular classroom. This in fact describes the norm for the schooling of immigrant and other language-minority children in every country except the United States..."
        Rosalie Pedalino Porter "The Sheltered English Immersion model proposed by Proposition 227 sets the general parameters for an early, intensive introduction of English. This model is consistent with established programs, uses the latest advances in the second language teaching field, and is an educationally sound approach."
        Christine H. Rossell "[S]tudents should be transitioned to the mainstream classroom as soon as they are able to understand the mainstream teacher’s English ... because once the students understand English spoken at a normal pace, they are better off in a mainstream classroom where they will have fluent English speaking role models and grade level curriculum. ... Over the years I have asked LEP students in ESL and structured immersion classes, as well as formerly LEP students in my classes at Boston University, 'How long was it after you started school before you were understanding what your teacher was saying in English in your regular classroom?' The most common answer I have received is three months."


Political Fallout

    H.R. 3892 – Bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Calif.) bill to gut the federal Bilingual Education Act, as passed on 10 September 1998 by the U.S. House of Representatives; Committee on Education and the Workforce Report on H.R. 3892
Resistance Editorials

Analysis of the No on 227 Campaign

Related News

    Ron Unz, Ventriloquist – The sponsor of Prop. 227, now trying to export his initiative to Arizona, claims to speak for Latinos when he bashes bilingual education. That turns out to be literally true in the case of Michael Martinez, head of "English for the Children – Arizona." A recent Guest Comment in the Arizona Daily Star, signed by Martinez, was taken almost verbatim from a 1997 column by Unz in the Los Angeles Times.

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