Prop. 58 would undo limitations on bilingual education
On a recent afternoon in San Gabriel's McKinley Elementary School, a class full of students who arrived in the United States less than a year ago practiced their English language skills.
They are third, fourth and fifth-graders, but the English lessons are at a kindergarten level.
Most of these students are able to write full compositions in their native languages, said the school's principal, Jim Symonds. So the ideal approach would be to continueteaching them in their native language to keep their brains stimulated while folding in English language instruction.
"If we could spend more time teaching them in their native language and working on that proficiency and getting to those higher level thinking skills, I think they’d be that much further ahead academically and be able to pick up English faster," Symonds said.
But current state law prevents the school from teaching them using those methods.
Instead, the English in Public Schools Initiative, which California voters approved in 1998, requires that the students spend one year in a sheltered class like this one, taking all of their classes in English, before transitioning to mainstream classes at their grade level.
Proposition 58, on California general election ballot, would remove those limits on native language instruction. The measure would directly affect instruction for the state's 1.3 million English learners and indirectly for those students whose parents want them to be bilingual.
The initiative has drawn wide support from educators who point to research in the last decade that suggests young people who learn multiple languages improve their brain’s ability to focus and manage several tasks at the same time, which are the keys to learning.
It's also supported by dozens of Democratic elected officials, the California Association for Bilingual Education, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the Advancement Project, and the think tank EdTrust West.
The proposition's strongest opponent is the man who created the bilingual education limits through Prop. 227, the original ballot measure passed 18 years ago.
“Bilingual education is dead and it’s not coming back,” said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who authored and funded Prop. 227.
At the time Prop. 227 made it on the ballot, more than 400,000 students were enrolled in bilingual education programs in California schools.
“The old system put hundreds of thousands – a good fraction of a million students – in a program where they were not taught English as soon as they started school,” Unz said.
Some of the bilingual education programs immersed students in their native language – largely Spanish – while dual immersion programs focused on Spanish instruction and built up English gradually from the early grades. At the time, many Californians were worried about increasing levels of immigration and were concerned about how newly-arrived students were acclimating to their schools.
Unz and others seized on the failings of some bilingual programs to underline that Prop. 58 would undo limitations on bilingual education | 89.3 KPCC: