San Diego Union-Tribune

Saturday, March 21, 1998

Strong Opinions about Prop. 227

Re: "Bilingual education foe pushes initiative" (A-section, March 18):

When the empty adverbs start flying, you know an advocate has no case on the merits. "Utterly, utterly unsuccessful" is how Ron Unz characterizes bilingual education.

Yet Unz has refused to visit a bilingual classroom or to read any educational research, which he describes as "utter garbage." So how does he support his charge? The only evidence he offers is a misleading statistic: 5 percent of California's limited-English-proficient children are reclassified as fluent in English each year. Actually, the figure is 7 percent, but it sounds better to claim a "95 percent failure rate."

If this signifies "failure" -- and that's debatable -- it's hard to pin the blame on bilingual education. Only 30 percent of limited-English students are taught in bilingual programs, a fact that's been pointed out to Unz on numerous occasions. In other words, 70 percent of these students are taught only in English. Yet, with Proposition 227, Unz would impose English-only programs on all schools -- regardless of the wishes of parents, educators, or local officials.

If California schools have "utterly" failed anyone, it's Ron Unz. He seems to have learned nothing in fourth-grade math.

Silver Spring, Md.

Editor's note: Crawford, a former Washington editor of  Education Week, is the author of three books on bilingualism and bilingual education.

If Proposition 227 were passed into law, it would require successful bilingual programs to be dismantled wholesale, regardless of parents', teachers' and local communities' wishes. Then school districts would have to implement different, untested plans for teaching English to nonspeakers, regardless of whether they believed in the "sheltered immersion" program.

Where would the regulatory "muscle" to force school districts and communities to accept this program come from? Would it be enforced by the same state Board of Education that just voted to give school districts more flexibility? Are incumbent politicians and elected officials willing to take the risk of forcing school districts and educators to do what they don't want to do? How much time, money and energy are we willing to spend in policing the public school system to force compliance with restrictive laws instead of investing in a high quality education through effectively implemented programs?

Proposition 227 is an extreme measure designed to accomplish a political purpose, not an educational purpose. It would cost us the very freedom to determine school policies and programs that local school boards have been granted.

San Diego