San Francisco Examiner

Sunday, May 10, 1998

Prop. 227 Fails the Test
Ron Unz's proposal does more harm than good in trying to force California to shift from bilingual programs to English immersion

IF PROPOSITION 227 were a plebiscite on teaching English through total immersion in the language rather than through bilingual classes, we'd be sympathetic. But it is not.

Instead, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It will harm more students than it helps. It will create bureaucratic obstacles to sound educational policy. It will take choices out of the hands of parents.

It subverts its own goal: helping more students become fluent in English faster.

Like all true believers, Ron Unz - the author of Prop. 227 - thinks he has the answers. But he's no educator. He's a millionaire businessman who dabbles in politics. He has discovered half a truth: that bilingual education in California doesn't work very well. What he hasn't found out is how to fix it.

Give Unz credit, though. His crusade forced action. The state Legislature has sent to Gov. Wilson a bill by Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, that removes bilingual education from the straitjacket of state control. SB 6 gives local districts, and parents, power to shape how English is taught to the 1.4 million California students with limited English ability.

Prop. 227 masquerades as a friend of parents, teachers and local schools. But it would enact a set of iniquitous rules. For example, parents who wanted a program different from English immersion wouldn't have a choice. They would be at the mercy of school officials, who could just say no.

Prop. 227 would make teachers and other local officials financially liable if they failed to abide slavishly by its dictates.

Prop. 227 could destroy popular and successful "two-way immersion" programs in which, for example, English-speaking children are combined with Spanish-speaking kids. And Prop. 227 could cause students not yet fluent in English to be dumped back into mainstream English-only classes before they are ready. The proposition says English immersion programs are "not normally intended to exceed one year." What does that mean? Such open interpretation is dangerous.

We should help all students to speak English, not penalize them because they can't yet. Vote no on Prop. 227.