San Francisco Examiner

Friday, May 22, 1998

The English-Only Assault on Children

OUR SON attends Buena Vista Elementary School, a two-way bilingual immersion program in San Francisco. The students learn in Spanish and English.

As parents, we chose Buena Vista because we believe in public education and because we believe that literacy in more than one language is a vital skill in a shrinking and multicultural world.

What we value most at Buena Vista is that children who are primary speakers of English and primary speakers of Spanish learn from one another in an environment that teaches respect for each other's language and culture.

An emphasis on academic excellence is combined with fluency and literacy in the two languages over the course of the six-year elementary school program.

As graduates of a designated "1995 Distinguished California School," Buena Vista students go on to San Francisco's best academic high schools. And they are equally comfortable in a village in Mexico - as wonderfully illustrated by our recent fifth graders' field trip.

Buena Vista is only one of San Francisco's successful elementary school bilingual immersion programs; others include Alice Fong Yu (Cantonese), Clarendon (Japanese) and Alvarado and Fairmount (Spanish).

If Proposition 227 is approved by voters on June 2, these and other innovative, established and sought-after public school language programs will be effectively destroyed.

Prop. 227 effectively will outlaw two-way immersion programs. That's because bilingual education will be illegal for children under 10 who are not already proficient in English.

The parents of elementary school age children who are learning English will not be permitted any choice of programs.

Prop. 227 will force children into English-only classes based only on their degree of English proficiency, rather than their age or grade level.

The minimal 180 days of English language instruction will be followed by English-only mainstreaming with no mandated provision for further support services. And this is after the children have missed out on a year of the normal academic curriculum.

Lost in the misinformation generated by the Prop. 227 proponents is the fact that under present California law, all parents have the absolute right, if they wish, to remove their children from a bilingual program to an English mainstream program.

Current law also permits local school boards to decide, as they have in Orange County, to eliminate bilingual programs, making no provision for anything but English-only education.

Although less than a third of English learners in California are in bilingual programs, bilingual education is being scapegoated for the failure of California schools to teach English.

The Prop. 227 supporters hide the fact that the vast majority of English learners are in English-only classrooms - in precisely the kind of failing programs Prop. 227 supporters wish to impose on all of us.

The Silicon Valley millionaire who put Prop. 227 on the ballot admits that he never set foot in a bilingual classroom before introducing the initiative; he is quoted in West magazine as saying he "just asked friends how long it took them to learn English."

The arrogance and destructiveness of this "one size fits all" approach is evident to parents, like ourselves, who have spent time in bilingual and immersion classrooms.

We know from the experience of our children that even in the best immersion programs it takes far more than nine months of language instruction for a child to be academically proficient in a second language.

Prop. 227 can be seen only as a further attack against our immigrant families, as well as an educational disaster. This is why the parents of Buena Vista's PTA unanimously voted to join educators and teachers' associations across California in opposing Prop. 227.

Let's not eliminate parental choice and common sense. Vote no on Prop. 227 and save language problems like Buena Vista that really work.

Examiner contributors Jill Stanton and Bob Prentice are parents of a kindergartner in the Spanish immersion program at Buena Vista Alternative School in the Mission District.