Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's 
Statement on California Proposition 227

Questions and Answers

1. How will the administration support districts to achieve the three year goal?

The President's budget for fiscal year 1999 includes a 17% increase for bilingual education. This funding would provide grants to schools and universities to train teachers, ensure that the curriculum is tied to high standards, and develop high quality assessment.

To address the 73% of limited English proficient students who are Hispanic, in February the President announced a Hispanic Education Action Plan which would also: 

  • strengthen basic reading and math skills 
  • help adults learn English 
  • help transform schools with high dropout rates prepare disadvantaged youth for college 
  • improve education programs for migrant youth adults
Major initiatives that will strengthen programs for limited English proficient children, as well as other children, include the Administration's effort to raise standards under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and our legislative proposal to enact a new Title V of the Higher Education Act that will greatly strengthen programs to recruit and prepare teachers to serve in urban and rural school districts.

2. What should districts be doing to help limited English proficient students learn English?

First, districts should ensure that limited English proficient children have access to high standards through all local, state, and federal programs. Districts should also ensure that teachers of limited English proficient students are appropriately trained to meet the students' linguistic needs. Teachers must provide specially adapted English instruction and instruction in the content areas tied to high standards. Children should be assessed to determine their progress, and instruction should be modified as necessary. The program should be evaluated on an ongoing basis to determine its effectiveness.

3. Is California Proposition 227 a violation of federal civil rights requirements?

School districts are required to take steps to rectify language deficiencies in order to provide access to nstructional programs for limited English proficient students. A district must: 

  • choose a program that is educationally sound, 
  • effectively implement the approach it has chosen by allocating adequate and effective staff and resources, and 
  • evaluate the program and take action if the program does not produce results.
Passage of Proposition 227 can be expected to result in violations of federal civil rights laws if children who are judged by their teachers to need bilingual education in order to progress are denied it or if children who are not prepared for regular classes are placed into them after just one year of special support. The one size fits all approach is inconsistent with educational practice and research that tells us that children learn in different ways and at different rates.

4. Does the three year goal relieve districts from their Civil Rights obligations?

No. Districts must comply with applicable civil rights requirements for all children, including requirements applicable to limited English proficient students. Districts would continue to be required to serve limited English proficient students appropriately if they did not transition into regular all English classes in three years. Appropriate exit criteria should be used to determine if limited English proficient students are ready to be mainstreamed. In addition, districts should follow former limited English proficient students over time to ensure that students continue to achieve in mainstream classrooms.

5. Is the three year goal supported by the research?

Research indicates that three years is a reasonable goal, recognizing that additional language instruction may be necessary depending on the needs of particular students.

6. How long do districts keep limited English proficient students in bilingual or English as a second language programs?

Districts report that limited English proficient children currently exit bilingual and English as a second language programs in three to five years depending on the age and educational background of the student.

7. Does the federal government mandate bilingual education?

No. The federal government does not mandate bilingual education either through civil rights requirements or through Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act. While districts are required to provide language support so that limited English proficient children have access to the same curriculum as all children, the choice of approaches used is left to the school district.

8. Has English as a second language instruction been more effective than bilingual education?

We are not prescribing one approach over another. Both approaches work better than one year of instruction or nothing at all. Both programs can be effective when implemented well.

9. How many children are in bilingual classes?

Of the 3.1 million limited English proficient children in the United States, 1.2 million are in bilingual classes. However, in California, only 30% of the 1.3 million limited English proficient students receive bilingual education.

10. Are you satisfied with bilingual programs in California?

There are many excellent programs in California. Some programs need to improve and are working on it. Some programs are not working for children and need to be fixed. Training more teachers and focusing on teaching children English and academic content linked to high standards will enhance all bilingual programs.

11. Your statement seems to support the recent action of the California State Board of Education in terms of "local decision making." Is this an accurate reflection of your statement?

The decision of the California board is still in process. I would support any district's decision if that decision is based on sound educational theory, as vouched for by experts, and for which there is a commitment to effective implementation, and ultimately an evaluation that indicates the program is working.

12. Do you support testing every year to determine the kind of progress limited English proficient students are making? If so what kind of test?

Educators across the country use a variety of testing and assessment tools to make decisions regarding the English and academic proficiency of their students. I support the use of educationally sound and appropriate measures to help make determinations regarding progress in this area.

13. Are you opposed to Proposition 227 because of the time frame or because of its commitment to English only classes?

Among other previously stated concerns, I am against Proposition 227 because of the short time frame in which it would provide support for limited English proficient children. Children learn English at different rates and in different ways. That is why more than 25% of all current federal grants for bilingual education support all English programs implemented in an educationally sound manner. But we know that one year is not sufficient for the vast majority of children.

14. Does bilingual education work?

There is consensus in the research community both about the soundness of the theory and effectiveness of bilingual education. With respect to academic achievement, the best and most careful comparisons of program types show modest-sized benefit in favor of bilingual education programs. Two separate committees of the National Research Council have supported these findings. With regard to learning English, when strict comparisons are made that control for background factors, children learn English at the same rate regardless of the kinds of programs they are in.

15. Don't most bilingual programs use the student's native language almost exclusively in the first few years. 

This often-heard claim is wholly refuted by the studies validated by the NAS. The studies found that English was used the majority of time in bilingual education programs and by the fourth grade only 3 percent of instruction was in the student's native language. Specifically, the studies found that in transitional bilingual education classrooms, English was used 65.8% of the time in Kindergarten, 69.1% in Grade 1, 74.5% in Grade 2, 80.3% in Grade 3, and 97.3% in Grade 4. Even in developmental bilingual programs, where the goal is fluency in both languages, English was used a majority of the time in Grades 3-6. Every bilingual education program includes significant course work in English language skills through an English as a second language (ESL) component.

16. Doesn't common sense tell you that the less time you spend speaking a new language, the more slowly you' ll learn it?

Studies validated by the NAS directly addressed and refuted this claim. The study concluded that providing limited English proficient students with substantial instruction in their primary language does not interfere with or delay their acquisition of English language skills, but helps them to catch up to their English-speaking peers in English language arts, English reading, and math. In contrast, providing limited English proficient students with almost exclusive instruction in English does not accelerate their acquisition of English language arts, reading or math. 

17. Do language-minority parents and communities oppose bilingual education?

Polls indicate that language-minority communities support bilingual education. For example, more than 80% of the Latinos interviewed supported bilingual education, according to a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times. In another more recent bipartisan poll of registered Hispanic voters in major markets nationwide, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates found that 83 percent of Hispanics support bilingual education programs, 97 percent of Hispanics place high importance on education, and 92 percent consider sending their children to college to be highly important.

18. Are students being placed in bilingual education who can already speak English fluently just because they have a Hispanic or ethnic minority surname?

Placing a student in a bilingual education program based solely on national origin would be educationally unsound and illegal. Much more information about each individual student and his or her language proficiency and needs would have to be assessed. Anecdotes about inappropriate misplacement of non-limited English proficient students in bilingual education are tragic. They reflect terrible education policy that no bilingual educator would condone and are against federal law. 

What has been well documented is that there are millions of limited English proficient students who are not provided at all with services that enable them to understand instruction. More than a quarter (26.6 percent) of limited English proficient students nationwide currently receive no tailored educational services to allow them to understand instruction, in violation of federal law.

19. Why have Hispanic dropout rates remained so high despite bilingual education?

The Hispanic drop-out rate remains unacceptably high, but it is important to note that, according to the Census Bureau, the drop-out rate for Hispanic students has improved since 1972, the year such data were first disaggregated for Hispanic students and around the time bilingual programs were first introduced on a widespread basis. In addition, current figures are deceptively large when compared with black and white-non-Hispanic students because over half of all foreign-born Hispanic persons counted as drop-outs never attended U.S. schools.

As the need for bilingual and ESL programs has been recognized by school districts, we know from the Office of Civil Right's investigative experience that many of these programs whether they include native-language instruction or not are not meeting the needs of Hispanic limited English proficient students because of how they are implemented, despite the best intentions of administrators and staff. Some schools rely on unqualified staff, including teachers who have no training in bilingual education techniques or ESL techniques. Some schools lack appropriate textbooks and other instructional materials. Some schools overlook limited English proficient students' need to keep up or catch up academically with their English-speaking schoolmates. Some schools allow limited English proficient students too little time and opportunity to become proficient in English before cutting off all English language development services.

It is clear that there is no single cause for high dropout rates among Hispanic students. Limited proficiency in English is only one factor contributing to the high drop-out rate among Hispanic youth. Other factors which have been shown to correlate with high drop-out rates among Hispanics, include but are not limited to economic disadvantage, lower participation rates in preschool programs, unavailability of qualified teachers, and barriers to effective communication with parents.

20. How can we expect schools to support tens of languages at once through bilingual education?

The large number of language groups can be a problem for schools if they instruct students from many different language groups. While it is true that most major school districts have many language groups, most schools are linguistically homogeneous. For example, there are over 75 languages represented in the Tucson public schools. However, no single school has more than four languages represented. Because a shortage of teachers and variety of languages can be a barrier to implementing a bilingual program, some school districts choose to implement a specially designed program of English instruction to support limited English proficient students as they learn English and acquire academic content.

21. What about those who say, "My grandparents were immigrants and made it without bilingual education or any other special help?"

Educational goals and expectations are very different than they were ninety years ago or even 50 years ago when there were influxes of students into the education system who did not speak English fluently. For example, in 1908 in New York City, just 13% of children whose parents were foreign-born went on to high school, compared with 32% of white children whose parents were native born. Of these students who started high school in New York City, 0% of Italian-Americans and 0.1% of Irish Americans received a diploma in 1911. In 1940 only 20% of the adult population had completed high school.

In 1993, 87% of adults have completed high school and 20% have completed at least four years of college. In 1998, we expect all students to achieve to high standards. This is becoming a particularly important challenge for those students with special needs such as limited English proficiency. This is not a time when we should be looking to limit resources to limited English proficient students, but rather to provide resources which meet the unique needs which might impede academic success.