Tucson Citizen

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Guest Opinion: 
Prop. 227 a Success in Calif.? Don't Believe It, Arizona

Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure that was approved by California voters in June 1998, has completed its second year of implementation.  

The initiative attempted to eliminate all the educational programs aimed at helping Limited English Proficient students in our state, replacing them with a single mandate: a short-term English immersion program, not normally intended to last more than one year, followed by the placement of LEP students in mainstream English classrooms.
The co-authors of the initiative, Ron Unz and Gloria Matta Tuchman, have described the results of the initiative as extraordinarily successful. Their assertion was based on claims that the Stanford 9 scores of California school-aged children were higher than in previous years, and that more and more LEP students were deemed fluent in English after passing a Redesignation test. 

However, judging Proposition 227 by the aforementioned standards without the fanfare or the glamour of the lights and the microphones offers a different reality.
Analyses of Stanford 9 scores in California carried out by highly regarded researchers such as Stanford professor Kenji Hakuta showed how results were higher in a variety of districts, those that maintained bilingual education programs and those that suppressed it. Therefore, the increase in scores cannot be attributed solely to the effects of Proposition 227.
Regarding the redesignation rate, some factors not mentioned by Unz and Matta contributed to the improvement. Among them, and most important, the  implementation of numerous after school intervention and tutoring programs, whose main objective was to target those students at risk of being retained at the end of the school year. Second, the redesignation rate has followed an upward trend in the past few years.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, its rate has been steadily going up since the 1990-91 school year. Interestingly, the redesignation rate in Oceanside (7 percent), the poster district for the advocates of 227, was nearly 2.5 percent lower than in LAUSD. This meant that, in spite of Unz's assertions that it only takes children a few months to learn a language, 93 percent of the students in Oceanside did not become fluent in one year.
The falsely proclaimed success of Proposition 227 in California is being used by English for the Children-Arizona to convince the electorate to vote for their even more restrictive initiative. The man behind the signature-gathering efforts of this organization is, once again, Ron Unz.
It's very commendable that an affluent entrepreneur becomes interested in education, where there's an enormous need to develop and improve instructional programs. However, Unz's and Matta's simultaneous presence in the political arena has been raising eyebrows as to the real motives behind their campaign and their remaining in the spotlight.
For example, Unz ran for the U.S. Senate earlier in the year (although he withdrew his candidacy), and wrote a campaign reform initiative (Proposition 25), which was rejected by the voters in June.
As for Gloria Matta Tuchman, she ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 1998, and she will run for U.S. Congress in November, opposing the incumbent Loretta Sanchez.
It would be desirable and wise for Unz and Matta to clearly separate education and politics. Otherwise, the doubts will persist as to their involvement in education as a cover-up to pursue their own personal aspirations. 

Francisco Ramos is bilingual coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District.