San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, July 17, 1998

Time for Educators To Heed Prop. 227

A FEDERAL judge has spoken, and unless California school officials want to spend the rest of their careers in court, they had better find a way to implement Proposition 227 -- the overwhelmingly-approved June ballot initiative intended to replace bilingual education with English immersion classes.

U.S. District Judge Charles Legge refused on Wednesday to overturn the measure, rejecting arguments that students with limited English skills would be prevented from learning academic subjects and that the measure was ``racially motivated.''

Other court challenges are likely, but in the meantime, the law takes effect August 2. Schools have a responsibility to have a plan ready that adheres to the statute and that still meets, as best it can, the needs of individual students.

While The Chronicle opposed Proposition 227 because of its simplistic, ``one-size- fits-all'' approach to a complex educational challenge and because many bilingual education programs have succeeded academically and linguistically, it is not easy to sympathize with pro-bilingual educators who indicate they will defy the measure. Many of those same pedagogues ignored growing public dissatisfaction with bilingual education, including some parents' pleas to more quickly teach their children English. If those educators had spent as much time mending bilingual education as they have spent trying to figure out how to get around Proposition 227, the crusade to end bilingual might never have succeeded.

Only three of every 10 limited English- speaking students has ever even been in a formal bilingual program. The rest have been taught mainly or entirely in English, so schools are not unfamiliar with English immersion and other ways to prepare students for instruction in mainstream math, science, literature and other academic subjects.

And even if there are powerful arguments for creating a true bilingual next generation -- as there are -- the clear message of the 61 percent support for Proposition 227 was that California voters give top priority to learning English.

Educators should take every advantage of Proposition 227 exceptions that allow good bilingual programs to continue, such as going the charter school route or encouraging parents to seek waivers. But reassessment of existing methods and unequivocal parent backing will only make the programs stronger.