Los Angeles Times
Friday, April 3, 1998
White House Panel to Oppose Prop. 227
Ballot: Resolution condemns the bid to gut bilingual education,
saying 'no one approach is the answer.' Measure's author calls the status
quo an 'utter failure.'
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Wading into the state's debate over bilingual instruction, a White House
commission on Latino education plans to declare its opposition today to
Proposition 227 at a meeting in Claremont designed to underscore the national
stakes of the June 2 vote.
If passed, the anti-bilingual-education initiative
"would force California schools to enroll all children with native
languages other than English in a mandated, and untested, one-year English
immersion program," reads a resolution expected to be approved by
the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic
"Experience and research indicate that
no one approach is the answer for all children," the statement adds.
The resolution, a copy of which was released
Thursday to The Times, says the commission "strongly opposes"
Authored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron K. Unz, Proposition 227 seeks
to end native-language teaching in public schools for children with limited
English skills, allowing few exceptions. The measure holds a commanding
lead in statewide polls.
In place of bilingual education, the initiative
prescribes one year of intensive English lessons before moving students
into mainstream classes. The measure would mean a radical shift for a state
with 1.4 million students with limited English abilities, far more than
any other state.
Critics say Unz's approach remains unproven
and would lead to classroom chaos. They say that many students not fluent
in English would drown under a "sink or swim" rule and that English-speaking
students in mainstream classes would suffer too.
Although bilingual education has drawn all
the attention, seven out of 10 California schoolchildren with limited English
skills are taught in classrooms where English is the primary language used.
The state has a massive shortage of bilingual teachers.
The 25-member commission, which includes
Supts. Ruben Zacarias of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Waldemar
Rojas of the San Francisco Unified School District, was formed by President
Clinton in 1994 to address high dropout rates and other problems Latinos
encounter in public schools.
To date, the Clinton administration has taken
no position on Proposition 227. But the commission's action could lend
some White House prestige to the campaign against the measure. Leaders
of the commission say pointedly that the White House and the federal Department
of Education were both told of their plans to meet in California and raised
While the commission intends to take testimony
from experts, its pro-bilingual education position is a foregone conclusion.
Member Guillermo Linares, a New York City councilman, said the panel had
to let Californians know that the nation is watching.
"Everything that gets introduced here
in California has an eventual impact on the rest of the country, and especially
in New York," he said, "because we share so much with a city
like Los Angeles. We feel the impact could be devastating."
Unz, who was invited to attend the hearing
at Pitzer College but said he would be unable to, argued that bilingual
education has hurt, not helped, Latino schoolchildren.
"It might have been better for the members
of this panel to say, 'We should try something different since the status
quo has been such an utter failure,' " he said.
Unz has said his one-year English immersion
proposal is based on common sense rather than research, most of which he
dismisses as biased. But Ana M. "Cha" Guzman, a community college
administrator from Texas who heads the commission, said that many studies
validate the effectiveness of well-funded, well-designed bilingual education
and that schools should be able to use native-language teaching when needed.
In fact, although California education groups
are virtually unanimous in opposition to Proposition 227, state policy
on bilingual education is in flux. Last month, the State Board of Education
promised local school districts more freedom to pick their own programs
for educating students with limited English abilities. Next week, the board
is due to consider new policies to implement that strategy.
Both sides in the Proposition 227 debate
are also following a bill, SB6, now advancing in the Legislature that would
rewrite state law to allow local control over bilingual education decisions.