Proposition 227 Essay, Research Paper
The result of California election on June 4th, 1998 was predicted all along. Proposition 227, also known as the anti-bilingual education measure, won in 61% favorable to 39% unfavorable contest. In a seemingly routine contest, the proposition brought out one of the most disparaging groups of supporters and critics, displaying passion for their causes in rallies, forums, debates and TV ads. This paper examines proposition 227 and its controversy. Then, it proposes what might have been a compromise that satisfied the supporters and the critics alike.
After a small protest by some dissatisfied Hispanic American parents on their children s bilingual education, Ron Unz, the Chairman of English for the Children wrote and spearheaded a movement for Proposition 227. Under the premise that bilingual education had not relieved high dropout rates and low English literacy of many immigrant children in last 20 years, Proposition 227 advocated a new way of education for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) children. It mandated a uniform solution for all LEP children in that all children will be placed in English language classrooms where the language of instruction used by the teaching personnel is overwhelmingly the English language, and in which such teaching personnel possess a good knowledge of the English language. Children who are English learners will be educated through sheltered English immersion during maximum of 1 year. The sheltered English immersion program meant nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the language. Passing of such proposal meant virtual elimination of bilingual education in California.
The biggest critics of proposition 227 are teachers. They claim that the premise of Proposition 227 epitomizes ignorance. First example is a clause in the measure that allows maximum of a year for sheltered English immersion. The critics dismiss it as confusion over speech fluency and academic fluency in English. They claim that, academic fluency in a second language requires 5 to 7 years instruction. Therefore, a year of special education is inadequate for preparing LEP children for English language classrooms. Second example is that only 6.5 percent of the students who are re-classified as fluent in English come from a group of students, only a third of whom are in bilingual programs and most of whom are in the kind of English-only programs mandated by Proposition 227. Hence, concluding bilingual education as a failure is shortcoming. In fact, many bilingual programs work better than other programs in both English acquisition and core subjects . Since, Proposition 227 mandates a single, untested program for all school districts, it fails to address the quality of instruction in core subjects like science and math.
Other critics of proposition include the proponents of bilingual education. They claim that benefits of bilingual education include appreciation for cultures. Because language is most fundamental part of any culture, allowing bilingual education is allowing the field in which language meets language, culture meets culture, values meet values. Hence, bilingual education has its own educational merits rather than just assisting education in other subjects.
Some proponents take a step further and claim that denying bilingual education is discrimination against minority students. First, the minority students are denied of the fundamental tools for reflection, critical thinking, and social interaction. Second, denying bilingual education is an act of affirming white supremacy and English supremacy. Declaring English as the valid language and pointing to critical aspect of knowing English as a requirement for success are two instances where English is pushed as the supreme language. The critics claim that the US is a nation built upon immigration and diversity of races makes it impossible to embrace so-called common culture and common language.
One of the prominent supporters of proposition 227 is the general population. According to the poll taken by the Los Angeles Times, 64% of registered white voters and 62% of registered Latino voters favored Proposition 227. Their reasons for the support are echoed in the content of the proposition. First, for the last two decades, bilingual education has not alleviated the current high drop-out rates and low English literacy levels of many immigrant children. They believe that bilingual education has failed because only 6.5 percent of children with limited English language skills moved into regular classes last year. They site the research that shows that sheltered English immersion is the most effective method of helping non-English speaking children learn English. Also, schools cannot teach all children in their home language because more than 50 languages are spoken in student’s homes. Hence, it is only fair that unified program be offered to all students, allowing all students to equally cultivate their English fluency.
The supporters believe in two broad assumptions about education. First, the proposition claims that for productive members of our society, literacy in English language is among the most important. Second the proposition claims that young immigrant children can easily acquire full fluency in a new language, such as English, if they are heavily exposed to that language in the classroom at an early age. Hence, the proposition can promote sheltered English immersion for maximum of one year.
The criticisms for such claims are rather obvious. First, research shows that if anything can be blamed for high illiteracy rate, it is education in whole since over 60 million Americans are illiterate or functionally illiterate. Also, full literacy in English language may not be necessary for productive members of our society since immigrants from Asia and Europe are succeeding quite nicely in America while it is black Americans, whose ancestors have been speaking English for over 200 years, find themselves still relegated to ghettos. Hence, even with conflicting research data, criticisms for bilingual education are exaggerations.
Even as such, my own experience with bilingual education makes ending bilingual education attractive. I came to the US only knowing my alphabet. And, I do not remember bilingual classes offered to a Korean kid at my junior high school. Yet, I remember stepping into honors English class by the sophomore year of my high school when Latino and Latina kids I knew from ESL classes in junior high school were still in ESL classes and in bilingual classes. While I am not entirely convinced that bilingual education is a failure, I am convinced that public schools need greater emphasis on academic achievements of students rather then simply graduating them on time. If getting rid of bilingual education means unifying standards for all students, hence challenging all students equally, I must favor getting rid of bilingual education. I trust the much the same sentiment was shared by the voters of Proposition 227.
Since I could not decide to amend or not to amend the proposition, I looked to the gaps between the supporters and the critics of the proposition. Then, being the cynic that I am, I found the gaps to be political: both parties were looking out for their own interest, not so much for better education. Therefore, I decided to amend the proposition and to offer both parties their share of satisfaction.
In researching for this paper, I kept wondering about substantial reasons for the teachers to oppose Proposition 227. If voters were convinced that something had to change, why were teachers not convinced? Overall, school budgets will not be cut, if anything it will be increased slightly. Then I thought of some reasons for teachers opposition. First, some of the bilingual education teachers, who earn more than the regular teachers would be in jeopardy from the proposition. Also, funding would be redirected to community members who agree to tutor English learners.
I had no reason to see that supporters of the proposition were any better. I did not see the biggest supporter, Ron Unz, the co-author of the proposition and the premier fund contributor of the proposition with $650,000, as either philanthropist or as philosopher who believes in helping out in a worthy cause against the status quo in education. I did see his intentions to be politically charged since, he has 1) challenged Governor Pete Wilson for the 1994 GOP nomination, 2) volunteered to appropriate $50 million per year for 10 years to fund English instruction for individuals who pledge to tutor children in their community, which ensures him a long public exposure and favorable light among employment seekers, and 3) mobilized Latino voters in his side in light of the popular proposition. Hence, instead of choosing the better of two evils, I decided that the best proposition is a compromise between the two.
First, basic spirit of the proposition is kept since it won in the election. Hence, LEP children are still mandated to enter English language classrooms. Also, English learners are placed in English immersion program for no more than a year. Second, to satisfy the teachers, some of $50 million will be spent to train current teachers for English language classrooms with LEP children and tutoring LEP children. In addition, current bilingual teachers will be allowed to tutor both LEP children and English learners as many years as assessed as appropriate by both the teacher and the school. Satisfying both the teachers and the parents through amending the proposition should lead to a better education, which is an unintended positive outcome.