Bilingual Education: A Tool for Equal Opportunity

A Position Paper by: The Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights

The Unz Initiative has spurred debate over the merits of bilingual education. In the California public school system, bilingual education has helped to ensure equal access to educational opportunities for students with limited English skills. The Coalition will fight to keep bilingual education programs intact in California, as part of our mission to advocate for the rights and dignity of all immigrants. We view all proposals to curtail bilingual education as outright attacks on immigrant communities. 

  • Vote NO on the Unz Initiative. It harms children and criminalizes teachers. 
    • Unz's so-called "English for the Children" initiative would segregate, humiliate and harm students with limited English ability by forcing them into English-only "immersion" classes. 
    • Limited English speaking students would fall behind in major subject areas, while being warehoused with children from varying grade levels and English speaking abilities. 
    • Equal access to educational opportunities would be harshly limited for immigrant children. 
    • Many immigrant children would be discouraged from speaking their first language, limiting their ability to become truly bilingual ­ an asset in today's economy. 
    • Teachers could be sued for teaching a child in a language other than English. 
    • Parents would have to go through a confusing bureaucratic process to have a say in their child's education. 

  • The Unz Initiative is the latest in a series of political attacks against immigrants. 

  • The Unz Initiative is a mean-spirited assault on immigrants who may not currently have a voice in the electoral process. It attempts to take away the rights of immigrants and people of color, as did Propositions 209, 187 and welfare "reform." The Unz Initiative blames bilingual education for shortcomings of a severly underfunded public school system.

  • Bilingual education should be strengthened, not dismantled.

  • Dismantling bilingual education would marginalize limited English speaking students. Proposals to end bilingual education in favor of "immersion" classes would hinder many students from keeping up in other course work. Denial of bilingual education would result in many immigrant students falling behind in school, having reduced graduation rates, and being less motivated to go to college. Many would also suffer low self-esteem. 

  • Bilingual education is a successful, necessary tool for teaching students. 

  • Bilingual education allows students who are learning English to simultaneously study math, history and other subjects with assistance, when necessary, in their native language. Bilingual education allows students to progress from one grade level to the next, while they are learning English. This makes sense, because learning English can be a lengthy process. The English "immersion" classes that Unz proposes are least effective for learning English. 

  • Local counties should not decide the fate of bilingual education.

  • The State of California has been mandated by the Federal Government to ensure equal access and a meaningful education for all students (Lau vs. Nichols, U.S. Supreme Court Decision, 1974). Bilingual education is a tool for equal access to education, and its fate should not be left to the discretion of local governments. 

  • Parents should have a voice in their children's education. 

  • Current policy allows parents to choose whether or not their children need bilingual or English-only instruction. This policy should remain intact. School districts must make every effort to ensure that parents' concerns are addressed and that their children's academic needs are met. 

We see the anti-bilingual Unz Initiative as an opportunity to increase our political participation as immigrants, to build cross-community alliances, and to bring together all people who believe in the rights and dignity of immigrants and educational equality for all.