Letter to the Los Angeles Times

Monday, May 25, 1998 (not yet published)

While opposing Proposition 227, Frank del Olmo (May 24) descrbes it as a "thoughtful" measure. 

Is it "thoughtful" to limit special English classes to only one school year? If Prop 227 passes, after one year (180 school days), children will have to know enough English to do book reports, read science and social studies texts, and solve story problems. 

All of the available research shows this is far too little time. Cal State Long Beach Professor David Ramirez studied the progress of limited English proficient children in an immersion program similar to the kind 227 would impose: After one year, only 1.3% of the children were mainstreamed, and most knew some English when they started. Even after two years, only 11% knew enough English to be placed into regular classes. 

University of Riverside researchers found similar results: It took children four years of 227-style immersion to reach the level of English considered necessary to do regular classwork in English. 

The Orange County Register (April 29) reported that only one of 3,800 limited-English-proficient students in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified was reclassified as fluent within 12 months of entering school, a fifth grader who had attended "an exclusive private school in Korea and worked nightly with a private tutor." Most LEP children in this district are in all-English programs.

Is it "thoughtful" to dismantle successful programs that are now in place in California, and gives districts only 60 days to reorganize. This is what 227 would do.

Is it "thoughtful" to pass a measure that will be nearly impossible to change? If 227 passes, it can only be overturned by a 2/3 vote of both houses of the state legislature along with the governor's approval, or another initiative. Thus, if 227 passes, and if children do not do well under the new plan, districts will be powerless to change the program. 227 completely eliminates local control, and gives local districts no flexibility.

Is it "thoughtful" to hold teachers financially responsible if they use excessive amounts of the first language in class? Prop 227 would do this and does not tell us how much is "excessive." 

Is it "thoughtful" to divert 500 million dollars from the education budget to adult education, to help adults learn English if they promise to teach English to the children? 227 would do this. It is a truly bizarre idea that substitutes beginning second language acquirers for professional teachers of English as a second language.

227 is not a referendum on bilingual education: It is an attempt to impose a rigid plan on limited English proficient children, a plan that is completely unsupported by experience and research. It prevents local school boards and school districts from making policy and robs them of all flexibility. And once it is in, it will be with us forever.

227 is not "English for the children." It erects a massive barrier preventing children from acquiring English.

Stephen Krashen
Professor of Education
University of Southern California