On June 2, voters in California will cast their ballots on Proposition 227, an initiative that would eliminate bilingual education programs in the state. Although polls show that most Californians, including a majority of Latinos, support the proposal, the Clinton administration in late April voiced its opposition to an outright ban in favor of a three-year limit to participation in bilingual education programs.
If the Proposition passes, students with limited proficiency in English would be placed in classes for a one-year immersion in English-only instruction. After that, students would be mainstreamed in English-speaking classes.
Until recently, California school districts were required to comply with a state law that mandated bilingual education. However, in a surprise decision earlier this year, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald B. Robie ruled that the state Board of Education had no authority to require districts to offer bilingual programs since the state law expired in 1987.
As a result, on April 9 the state board adopted a new bilingual education policy, allowing school districts to decide for themselves how best to teach the 1.4 million California students who have little or no fluency in English. According to the new policy, the purpose of the state’s bilingual education program is “to develop in each child fluency in English as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
While there is evidence of abuses in bilingual education programs, such as incorrect assignment of students to bilingual classes and students spending too many years in the program, a recent analysis showed that bilingual education in the early grades improved student performance on English-language tests. (See “Misclassification Traps U.S.-Born Students in Bilingual Classes” and “Bilingual Ed Beneficial in Early Grades,” School Reform News, April 1998.)
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].