Bakersfield Californian

Wednesday, April 1, 1998

Bilingual Ed Foe Irked by Repeal of State Law

SAN FRANCISCO -- One of the most vocal opponents of bilingual education said Tuesday that he isn't satisfied with the dissolution of a state law that mandate such classes.

Ron Unz, who placed an initiative on the June ballot that would replace bilingual education with English-only classes, said despite the repeal of the old mandates, the new rules allowing individual districts to decide on the issue themselves leaves the door wide open to bilingual education.

It's a door he wants slammed shut.

If the measure passes, all Kern County schools would teach students who struggle to understand English, in English-only classes. Currently, bilingual instructors teach students lessons in math, science and reading in Spanish and spend a smaller portion of the day teaching them language skills in English. Most bilingual students in Kern County speak Spanish.

Unz debated the issue with Stanford University researcher Kenji Hakuta and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Waldemar Rojas Tuesday at the Education Writers Association conference in San Francisco.

Both Hakuta and Rojas offered arguments against Unz's plan, stressing that each school district should assess its bilingual programs and determine what is best for its students. The state's decision to end the law placed the decision for bilingual education in the hands of local districts. Most of Bakersfield's big districts, including Bakersfield City and Greenfield school districts, plan to continue their programs.

"Should San Jose suffer for problems in Los Angeles?" said Rojas, who sided with bilingual education.

Under the existing program, students are considered fluent within 4 1/2 years, Rojas said. Unz stated that his plan would take a year because students would be placed in intensive English-only classes before entering regular classes.

Both men said their opponent's programs lacked evidence of success.

"This initiative is the road to hell based on good intentions," Rojas said.

Hakuta, however, said extensive research has shown that both programs have potential, but bilingual education scored slightly higher by less than 1 percent.

Hakuta said he predicts the measure will pass. "Mostly, because of its stress on English, not educational issues," he said.

Those who voted for the anti-immigration initiative, Proposition 209 (which forbade government support of illegal immigrants), will also vote for the bilingual measure, he added.

In Kern County, nearly 73 percent of the voters supported the anti-immigration initiative.