The READ Report on Prop. 227:
A Transparently Political Document
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
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
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:
- 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.
- SEI's worst enemy is primary language instruction, which is based on
- To implement immersion, school districts must decide how to group children
according to language levels for specialized instruction (taken from Krashen
& Terrell , who are not credited) and to maximize contact with
native English speakers.
- 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"
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
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
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
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
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
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