Lessons of 227
Archive Editorial Archive
Center for Multilingual,
Mora on Prop. 227
for Bilingual Education
for the Children" (Unz)
Life After 227:
The Struggle Continues
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A Few Numbers That Ron Unz Would Prefer You Didn't
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
explanation of his research for news media representatives
Campaign Against Proposition 227: A Post Mortem
by James Crawford
Bilingual Research Journal 21, no.
at the Polls
Chapter on Prop. 227 from James Crawford's
Educating English Learners: Language Diversity in the Classroom, 5th ed.
for Bilingual Education?
Report on the Prop. 227 campaign and its aftermath
by James Crawford
Rethinking Schools, Winter 1998/99
Campaign Finance Reports for June Primary:
227 Outspent Unz by Nearly 5-1
theTruth About 227, by John Espinoza
Teacher criticizes failure to inform L.A. parents
of their rights
Bilingual Education Story:
Can't the News Media Get It Right?
by James Crawford
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
Case Against Proposition 227 – Plaintiffs' legal
requesting a preliminary injunction
by Ron Unz (One Nation/One California) et al.
Declarations by Plaintiffs'
Lily Wong Fillmore &
Declarations by Defendants'
Charles Glenn, Rosalie Porter
& Christine Rossell
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
On the brighter side:
On the darker 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
Lessons of 227
- 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.
After a generation of research and practice, bilingual education's
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:
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.
- 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
- 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?
Watch this space.
Clips, Editorials & Documents
(no endorsement implied)
Latest Developments and Commentaries
(1998) News & Editorial Archives
- 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
- 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
- Adult School Given Boost – New law's $50 million for English classes begins to arrive
in school districts.
Riverside Press-Enterprise, 4
Regulations for Implementation of Prop. 227 – Adopted
by the California State Board of Education, 9 July 1998
Case Against Prop. 227 – Plaintiffs' legal brief
requesting a preliminary injunction, 10 June 1998
by Plaintiffs' Authorities
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."
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.
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.
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.
by Defendants' Authorities
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..."
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."
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."
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.
of the No on 227 Campaign
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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