The READ Report on Prop. 227:
A Transparently Political Document

by Jill Kerper Mora
San Diego State University

The READ Institute published a report by Kevin Clark (1999) on five California school districts' implementation of Proposition 227. The districts included in the study are Orange Unified, Delano Union, Atwater, Ceres, and Riverdale. The stated purpose of the report is to describe the significant issues faced by these districts in dismantling their bilingual programs and establishing immersion programs to conform to the new law. The report also provides a description of the common evaluation design created by the five districts to track students growth in English and to present some preliminary student achievement data. The document includes five pages of graphs describing data from Orange, Atwater and Delano, which Stephen Krashen and Jeff McQuillan have analyzed in detail ("Structured Immersion Falls Short of Expectations").

The purpose of this analysis of the READ Institute report is to point out ways in which bilingual education is mischaracterized and used as a straw man to justify actions taken under the Proposition 227. Although administrative decisions regarding program implementation taken by these school districts may be congruent with the law, it is questionable whether these features of the immersion program will produce the desired results long term for language minority students and their parents.

My intention is also, quite frankly, to defend teacher education from the attacks found throughout this document. These appear to be attempts to discredit Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) credential requirements, as well as the teacher educators and practicing teachers who design these programs and teach courses for prospective teachers of the students who are the subject of Proposition 227. The false and misleading statements regarding teacher training also reflect on the integrity and effectiveness of SB 1969 trainers whose programs are certified by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). Legislation mandating this training for teachers of language minority students throughout the state was supported by the California Teachers Association, who were involved in the design of this training (CTA, 1998).

I also offer this analysis to provoke thought regarding the responsibilities for instructing English language learners that are thrust upon under-prepared teachers who may in fact be working valiantly to comply with district mandates, but without the benefit of collaboration with their bilingual (BCLAD) credentialed colleagues. The bilingual teachers in these school districts appear to have been relegated to a subservient role in which their linguistic skills and pedagogical expertise are demeaned and degraded. I wish to give these teachers a voice to express their views and concerns regarding implementation of Proposition 227, so that it does not appear that they are happily going along with the program in these districts when in fact they are subject to intimidation and coercion. I invite them to tell their stories as well.

Having made clear my intentions, let us reason together over this report.

A caution about demographics
First of all, it is interesting to note the demographics of these five school districts. According to the descriptions provided by Clark, the largest percentage of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students in the total school population is 49% in Delano, with Ceres showing a 10% LEP population. This is important to keep in mind because Clark claims that the implementation procedures and models of instruction are widely generalizable throughout the state. However, I believe that this is yet another example of the "one-size-fits-all" mentality. Much of the plan for "clustering" students, with planned periods of "structured mixing" to provide contact with native English speakers, to promote English language acquisition simply won't work in predominantly Latino districts and schools. School districts that enroll predominantly Spanish-speaking LEP students, such as National City, San Ysidro, and Calexico have only a small percentage of native English speakers. Even within school districts, because of patterns of neighborhood segregation, many schools may be populated by students who are linguistically homogeneous but who have very little contact with native-English speaking peers.

The demographics are also important to consider in looking at assessment results. No socioeconomic statistics were provided in this report, such as average family income, number of students on reduced lunch, or unemployment rates in the areas. These data are important in evaluating the feasibility of these program models, but also as a way of determining whether a particular group of students is "beating the odds" or if the odds are already in favor of their rapid assimilation and long term academic achievement. We must be wary of calling programs, or public policies, a success unless there is evidence that they address persistent achievement gaps between the privileged and less privileged in our society.

Defining terms and combatants
Clark begins the READ Institute report with a description of the compliance options facing school districts posed by passage of Proposition 227, heralding newspaper reports that "publicized celebrations of common sense prevailing over ideology." This is to clearly delineate the combatants who are pitted against each other throughout the document. Clark leads us in a "re-thinking and re-conceptualization of how to educate today's limited English proficient students." Clark identifies three significant issues in the implementation of English immersion programs: "Defining Terms," "So, What is Immersion?" and "Designing the Program."

The first section of "Defining Terms" has as the first bullet a subsection titled "Bilingual Good Immersion bad." On one side is "bilingual ideology" and on the other is "immersion" with their respective allies. Bilingual ideology is supported by the California Department of Education and by implication, teacher education programs that used a "prescribed ideological syllabus" to teach that bilingual education in all its forms was good. Clark reports that Orange Unified Assistant Superintendent Neil McKinnon tangled regularly with the Department of Education over immersion. McKinnon stated that CDE was "vested in it [bilingual education] and thought it was the only way to go. Underlying that was an arrogance that they could make people do it how they wanted it done." Clark would have us believe that there is no such arrogance among the heart-felt immersion advocates.

On the other side are the administrators of the five school districts who rejected the "bilingual ideology" and embraced immersion because "in our heart of hearts, the immersion idea always made sense" (p. 5). The Department and teacher educators were followers of Steve Krashen and Jim Cummins who were "the only two linguists most [teachers] had heard of." We are offered up Christine Rossell and Charles Glenn as their replacements.

A new definition of immersion education
Clark's definition is this: "English immersion programs require a special curriculum, texts, and trained teachers to provide English language instruction and subject matter at the same time it is a program designed for English language learners" (p. 4). The purpose of this two-page discussion appears to be to set up the new paradigm, "Immersion Good Bilingual Bad" to replace the previous belief system. Clark attempts to make several points with his portrayal of immersion and the way it has been implemented in the five school districts. I summarize these as follows:

  1. Structured English immersion (SEI) has been the victim of an evil plot to suppress it through mass training efforts that undermine the presentation of its second-language teaching principles.
  2. SEI's worst enemy is primary language instruction, which is based on false principles.
  3. To implement immersion, school districts must decide how to group children according to language levels for specialized instruction (taken from Krashen & Terrell [1983], who are not credited) and to maximize contact with native English speakers.
  4. Students must be provided English language development (ELD) and specially designed content area instruction in English (SDAIE) by credentialed (by CTC) teachers who most likely have been trained by teacher educators who are followers of Krashen and Cummins in how to do this.

Has immersion been the victim of teacher education?
First, we must question to what extent "immersion" education has been suppressed or denied and whether or not teacher education and state-mandated training has been part of the plot. This claim flies in the face of the numbers of students in various types of programs before passage of Proposition 227 in June 1998. We must remember that only 30% of all the state's 1.4 million LEP students were in programs labeled "bilingual education" where they received instruction in their native language. The other 70% of programs serving language minority students were described by methodologies rather than program labels such as ELD and SDAIE. Usually, students who were in classrooms with a CLAD credentialed teacher were assumed to be getting these types of instruction. There was no policy that prevented or discouraged school districts from implementing coherent programs for students, either bilingual programs or English-only programs where bilingual teachers were unavailable.

Many school districts have not articulated a well-defined plan for educating their language minority students for a variety of reasons, including racism and prejudice that lead them to ignore and neglect these students. Other reasons are lack of educational expertise, lack of financial and staff resources or lack of political will and voice for language minority parents to demand higher quality education for their children. Proposition 227 may ameliorate these negative conditions somewhat; however, the former policies and laws regarding bilingual education are not an excuse. For example, at several points in the READ Institute report, Clark comments on the school district's lack of information and assessment data regarding their language minority students. One must ask, why were these data not being collected and used to improve opportunities for LEP students. Bilingual education cannot be blamed for a lack of commitment to a minority population by district governance bodies and administrators.

Regarding the training and certification mandates from the state, the new requirements for the CLAD credential instituted by CTC in 1992 have produced a coherent and comprehensive program for preparing teachers for classrooms with LEP students. The charge that "immersion" has been undermined, denigrated or neglected in these programs is unfounded. In fact, Clark only cites himself to support these claims. The term "immersion" has been used properly by CLAD teacher educators to refer to immersion programs as a category within bilingual education. In their volume on international immersion education, Johnson and Swain (1997) state the following:

    "Given the core features we have proposed, we would argue that there are some programs labeled immersion that have overextended the use of this term to the point at which a discussion of common issues and problems become difficult, if not impossible. A good example of inappropriate over-extension is the labeling of English-only programs for Spanish-speaking minorities in the United States as 'immersion education.' Such English-only education leads to replacive or subtractive bilingualism in the academic domain, the wide use of the L2 in public domains leads to the development of interpersonal and social proficiency that immersion students do not have the opportunity to acquire" (p. 12).

A fleeting reference to Canadian French immersion for English speakers as "associated with" SEI neither affirms nor refutes the commonly held misconception that the term "immersion" used to describe a form of bilingual education either applies or does not. However, later on he states that the districts "turned to writings on European immersion programs for guidance" in designing their SEI models.

Clearly, SEI is not immersion as language educators understand the term. The features of immersion Johnson and Swain refer to here include "overt support exists for L1"; "the program aims for additive bilingualism" and "the teachers are bilingual." Clearly, two of these features do not apply at all to the subtractive model employed by the school districts in Clark's study. The third characteristic, bilingual teachers, may apply occasionally since many school districts have assigned bilingual credentialed teachers to SEI classrooms. However, in the absence of support for L1 and additive bilingualism and with severe restrictions on their use of L1, these teachers perform a much different role than true "immersion" teachers.

The point I wish to make here is that the charge that teacher education programs have attacked or suppressed immersion is simply false. Mind you, many of us in CLAD programs who teach the required second-language acquisition and ELD/SDAIE methods courses for the credential make no bones about our support for bilingual education. However, I dare to say that we had not been inclined to pit something called "immersion" against something called "bilingual education" because we see them as contradictory or incompatible. This was the creation of a dichotomy taken on by Gloria Matta Tuchman and Ron Unz.

A portrayal of primary language instruction: Myth or reality?
Which leads me to the next leg of the journey through the READ Institute study primary language instruction. In a two-page discussion and a twelve-cell chart, Clark attacks several alleged hypotheses behind the use of a child's native language as a medium of instruction:

  • It "is necessary to maintain and build self-esteem."
  • It "ensures access to the core curriculum."
  • More of it "equals more English learning."
  • "English learning is dependent on the 'transfer' of information learned from it," etc.

He contrasts these "false principles" with the "true principles" of English immersion: time-on-task in English, simultaneous learning of language and content, maximizing the amount of understandable instruction in the new language, English actively taught using school subjects as the focus, success in the new language builds confidence for future learning.

Compare these principles with the following theories proposed by Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell (1983): the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the comprehensible input hypothesis and the i+1 theory, the communicative goals of instruction, the low affective filter hypothesis. In actuality, the methodology known as sheltered subject matter teaching was invented by Krashen, inspired by Canadian immersion. He also participated in the first study showing the success of sheltered immersion (Edwards et al., 1984), which won the Pimsleur award for best published paper of the year from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Krashen (1991) reviewed the considerable evidence supporting sheltered instruction, showing its success with literate LEP students at the intermediate level.

Failing to mention any of this, Clark would have us believe that before the Proposition 227 version of immersion came along, none of these "principles" were translated into a coherent program because educators supported the use of students' primary language and teachers were trained to believe that these principles comprised bilingual education.

This is not where the demons of primary language instruction end, however. Clark describes in detail how Ceres and Atwater school districts created "English Language Use Policies" with descriptions of permissible uses of a child's primary language that are highly prescriptive and limiting. At one point he praises an unidentified high school that promulgated a policy that the use of Spanish had to be limited to 90 consecutive seconds. The premise is that teachers needed to be convinced that anything more than a minute and a half in the primary language could be considered instruction in Spanish, which was not needed to teach English. He explains that these policies are necessary because leaving the decisions up to teachers was "effectively leaving open the option of continued primary language instruction."

One of the more interesting details of the document is the discussion of the merits and demerits of segregation of language minority students. The Principles chart included a vague reference to a principle of primary language instruction that "segregation of students is bad. It sends a message of shame to non-English-speaking students that they have to be taught alone for some period of the day." I found this especially confusing. The discussion that followed outlines key components of the immersion program and describes in detail how children would be segregated by language levels for most of the day, with provisions for "structured mixing" for art, music, physical education, and hands-on science.

The objection to any segregation of students into homogeneous language groups for bilingual education was that it would last for more than a year. This was contrasted with the advantages of immersion segregation, which include these reasons: It allows teachers to design specific English language lessons suited to students' needs. It removes native English speakers from the group so that teachers can make subject matter comprehensible. It intensifies time on task for learning English. Of course, there was no explanation of how these three advantages did not accrue equally in homogeneous L1 groups, whether these exist by design or by natural processes in segregated schools.

The remainder of the document contains a description of how the districts fended off parents who wanted an alternative program, as permitted and even required, under Proposition 227. A portion is dedicated to explaining how teachers were trained, without the help of CTC or teacher educators (but apparently using materials developed by Stephen Krashen and methods based on the theories and principles of Jim Cummins). There are regular complaints about "the steady barrage of press coverage quoting immersion foes and bilingual advocates," with dire predictions about how students are actually doing in the five districts. For this report, I once again direct you to Krashen and McQuillan's analysis of the data presented by the school districts themselves posted on this website.

In conclusion, I take note of the pervasive and positive influence of Stephen Krashen and Jim Cummins, who so clearly articulated for us the principles of second-language acquisition that guide our practice and preparation of teachers for language minority students. The READ Institute may attack these scholars, rephrase their theories, debase the strategies and methods they originated, but they can't recommend anything better. The attacks on primary language instruction and additive bilingualism and on its advocates are transparently political. They contribute nothing to our efforts to improve educational opportunities for our most vulnerable populations of students. They are part and parcel of the greater societal war against progressive educators and humane models of teaching and learning that honor students' bilingualism and biculturalism, instead of attempting to stamp it out.

The philosophy of teaching and learning that underlies my CLAD teaching is open for all to see on my CLAD website. Please visit my web pages to understand the relationship between CLAD instruction and bilingual education. Please read my expert viewpoint on these issues. The debate here continues to be over the value of bilingualism and bilingual instruction for students whose parents value their dual language skills.

These attacks on what READ terms "the bilingual ideology" may be winning in the dominant culture, but there are still strong forces pushing for recognition of the rights of the bilingual/bicultural minority to enhance and exploit our linguistic resources. As a bilingual educator, I offer this analysis of others' position papers and research data in the hope that honesty and integrity will prevail toward collaboration and shared decision-making for the improvement of educational opportunities and equity for language minority students.

California Teachers Association (CTA). 1998. SB 1969 solution in hand. California Educator 2 (6): 20-21.

Clark, K. 1999. From primary language instruction to English immersion: How five California districts made the switch. Washington, DC: READ (Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development).

Edwards, H., Wesche, M., Krashen, S., Clement, R., and Kruidenier, B. 1984. Second language acquisition through a subject-matter learning: A study of sheltered psychology classes at the University of Ottawa. Canadian Modern Language Review 41: 268-82.

Johnson, R. K., & Swain, M. 1997. Immersion education: International perspectives. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Krashen, Stephen. 1991. Sheltered subject matter teaching. Cross Currents 18: 183-88. Reprinted in J. Oller (Ed.), Methods that work (pp. 143-48). Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Krashen, Stephen, & McQuillan, Jeff. 1999. Structured immersion falls short of expectations. NABE News (in press).

Krashen, Stephen D., & Terrell, T. D. 1983. The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Copyright © 1999 by Jill Kerper Mora. All Rights reserved. A more detailed version of this article, with additional resources for teachers, may be found at Mora's CLAD Website.