California voters poised to gut English-only instruction law
In a near complete reversal of precedent, polling shows a 'yes' vote is likely on California's Multilingual Education Act
Non-partisan voter poll released on Friday found that 68 percent of California voters plan to vote yes on that state’s Proposition 58, known as the Multilingual Education Act.
Based on a measure proposed by State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), the new proposition would largely eliminate the red tape involved in creating a bilingual education program. A ‘yes’ vote would signal a major shift in thinking for a state that effectively outlawed bilingual education in 1998. The evolution in thinking on the value of bilingual education and the specifics of the voter proposition was covered in depth by The Hechinger Report in this story from our archives.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Last spring, Derrick Fields, 9, sat in his social studies classroom at Sherman Elementary School, learning about the creation of the telegraph. The machine was invented so that “someone can connect to someone who is far away,” he said.
This was pretty normal stuff for a fourth grade history lesson, except for one thing: The entire lesson — from the textbooks to the teacher’s instructions to the students’ short essays — was in Spanish.
In fact, half of Derrick’s time is spent learning in Spanish and the other half in English in what’s known as a dual language immersion program.
Teaching academic subjects in Spanish, or any foreign language, has been widely understood to be illegal in California since 1998. Proposition 227 appeared on the June ballot that year, offering voters a chance to weigh in on whether or not students should be taught primarily in English in public schools. While opponents saw the measure as racist, it was loudly championed by Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire with political aspirations, as the best way to integrate the state’s booming immigrant population.
Unz’s argument won the day. Proposition 227 was voted into law with 61 percent of the vote. Now part of California’s extensive education code, the law holds that “all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English.”
For the most part, that has been interpreted as: Don’t teach in Spanish.
“I am in the camp that says it’s just a terrible waste,” said Patricia Gandara, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There are all kinds of social, cognitive and tangible benefits that accrue to those with more than one language. It’s a terrible loss.”