Fresno Bee

Thursday, April 23, 1998

Prop. 227 Described as 'Disaster in the Making'

Teacher Xe Moua gave nearly 200 participants at an anti-Proposition 227 rally Wednesday a taste of what a world without bilingual education feels like.

She spoke in Hmong for 10 seconds.

A majority of the mostly Hispanic crowd understood little, if any.

"All right, test question No. 1?" Moua asked, standing outside of the Roosevelt High School Auditorium. "What did I say? Now ask yourself, as a student could you understand this for 180 days of school?"

It was a drastic example of what many bilingual educators predict will be an equally drastic situation, if Proposition 227 is approved.

Supporters of the controversial ballot say the initiative's aim is simple: do away with bilingual education because it doesn't work.

What the proposition would do is put California's 1 million-plus limited-English-speaking students in English-only classes after a year of English-language training.

It also restricts the ability of local school districts to develop their own programs.

Proposition 227 creator Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley software company owner, calls it common sense.

But bilingual researcher Stephen Krashen, who was in Fresno for Wednesday's rally, calls it a disaster in the making.

He has written more than 160 articles and books about bilingual education, including the recent, "Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education."

Krashen is a professor of Education at the University of Southern California.

He believes that the reason most public polls show overwhelming support for the proposition is that the public misunderstands what the issue is.

"People think that bilingual education means we don't teach children English," he said before his speech. "But that's not true. Children need to learn English as quickly as possible."

Research shows, Krashen said, that good bilingual programs turn out students who perform better academically than students in regular English classes.

He also mentioned that in Santa Ana, under an English-only program similar to what Proposition 227 is proposing, a study found that students did not learn English well in one year.

"There is little research to show that English immersion classes are effective," Krashen said. "It just doesn't work."

If Proposition 227 is approved, the fear among many bilingual educators and parents is that students will begin to fall behind the rest of their English-speaking classmates.

"What is going to happen to my daughter, if she doesn't understand what the teacher is saying?" said Maria Bernal, whose daughter is a seventh-grader. "She needs to be taught in a language she understands and taught English, too. We want our children to learn English. It's important."

Fresno school officials say that what angers them is the possibility that the proposition could wipe out any progress the district has made in improving its programs.

But critics of bilingual education say they don't trust educators anymore.

"We have given educators 30 years to try and run good bilingual programs and they have failed," said John Santoya, president of the San Joaquin Taxpayers Association and supporter of the proposition. "We have lost our faith in them. It is time to put this to an end."

Santoya said the reasonable thing to do is to teach children English as soon as they start school.

Others, however, argue that bilingual education does work, when it is done well.

Many in the Central Valley point to the success of Kerman Unified.

Recent test scores showed that students who entered its program in the first grade scored higher in 1997 than other students. They say Kerman's program works because it has well-trained bilingual education instructors, strong bilingual materials and the commitment of the school board and administration.