To the Reader: The following letter is intended to be used as a sample for distribution to your family, friends and voters in California. While long, it is intended to provide you with enough information so that you may pick and choose those issues to highlight in making your own argument. The statistics provided for the Calexico Unified School District could be replaced by those from a district with which you may be familiar.
I am writing this letter to let you know that there is an initiative on the ballot for the June 2nd election. It is Proposition 227: English for the Children (also known as the Unz Initiative).
I want to explain to you why I feel that this proposition is very detrimental to education and most especially for immigrant children. This initiative proposes to have all students who are limited English speakers receive all of their instruction only in English. Most people believe that this makes sense. Here's why it doesn't:
- We will return to what we were doing 20 or 30 years ago which is the old "sink or swim" method. By using this method, students would have to delay learning until they can understand and speak English. Granted that the students would learn to speak English but at the expense of learning academic subjects such as math, science, social studies, etc. If this happens, these limited English speaking students will need remedial instruction because while they're learning English, English speaking students are learning math, science, social students, etc. This will make limited English speaking students fall behind in these subjects.
- This initiative proposes to put all limited English speakers in their first year of enrollment in one classroom for intensive instruction in English. This would be regardless of their age or academic preparation. These kinds of practices are humiliating and demeaning to the students if you can imagine an 11 or 12 year old student being placed with kindergarten or first grade students. It would also be extremely frustrating to a teacher who must teach English all day long to students of different ages and needs. After just one year in this English class, they are supposed to know enough English to learn all academic subjects in English. All those who have studied a second language know that it is almost impossible to learn a second language fluently in one year.
- Presently, parents have a choice to decide if they want their child placed in a bilingual program or an English-only program. Once Prop. 227 passes, parents will have little or no choice.
Why was this proposition placed on the ballot? A millionaire named Ron Unz (who ran for governor and lost) and Gloria Matta Tuchman, a teacher from Orange County (who ran for state superintendent and lost) proposed this initiative. Unz has no children and has never worked in the education system. He claims that he proposed this because there is a high dropout rate among Hispanics, in some cases as high as 40% and he claims that this is a result of bilingual education. Yet, state statistics indicate that in California only 1/3 of all limited English speakers are actually enrolled in a bilingual program. That means that 2/3 of the limited English-speaking students are not receiving bilingual instruction. I believe that the dropout rate is more related to students not receiving services.
- Presently, the local school boards have the power to decide what types of programs should be instituted for limited English speaking students. Once Prop, 227 passes, they will have no choice. They will have to abide by a "one size fits all" mentality.
Why do I think that? Calexico Unified School District has been implementing bilingual programs for over 20 years. In the Calexico Unified School District, the exact opposite is true. Two-thirds of all limited English speakers start out in bilingual programs and by 4th grade approximately 80% or more transition to English instruction. For the last 10 years, Calexico's dropout rate is lower than the state dropout rate for all students and significantly lower than the state Hispanic dropout rate. Also, Calexico high school graduates, for the last 6 years, have had a college attendance rate of between 67% and 93%. This is remarkable for a community whose average income is below $10,000 annually. So here we have an example of a district where bilingual education is used effectively. It has had very positive outcomes and has been a model for bilingual programs across the United States.
As you know, I am a teacher and I am very concerned about the impact that this law will have on my students. I want my students to be prepared with a strong education to be able to go on to college and I think this law will provide inferior educational opportunities for limited English speaking students. This will lead to a higher dropout rate, lower self-esteem, and more students placed in special education classes. This is not what we want for our students.
Please vote No on Proposition 227.