What is Proposition 227?
Proposition 227 is a referendum that was approved by Californian voters in June of 1998, seeking to limit assistance for limited English proficient students to one year of sheltered English instruction. The only exception is when 20 or more parents in a district request for a waiver, which would be granted only if the children are 10 years or older, if they already possess good English skills, or if they are special needs children. It is currently being challenged in the federal courts. Although a conservative federal judge has refused to grant a temporary injunction against the implementation of the initiative, another federal judge has ruled that districts that have a standing agreement with the U. S. civil rights office of the Department of Education to implement bilingual education must continue to do so.
Who was behind the initiative?
The Chair of the English for the Children Campaign was Ron Unz, a conservative Republican who once ran for governor against Pete Wilson in 1994. A multimillionaire software developer-physicist, Unz is using his considerable resources behind the Campaign. As a free-market libertarian along the line of Linda Chavez's politics, Ron Unz actually campaigned against Proposition 187. (He is on the advisory board of Linda Chavez's conservative lobbying group, Center for Equal Opportunity, which advocates against bilingual education and affirmative action.) The Co-chair of the Campaign was Gloria Matta Tuchman, a Latina 1st grade English-only teacher from Santa Ana who who once ran for state superintendent of public information. Not surprisingly though, Tuchman has not advertised her one-time stint as a board member of the national English-only organization, U. S. English.
Why did some Latinos and Asians support the Unz initiative?
Ron Unz was capitalizing on the disappointments of immigrants with their children's educational programs. The reality is that most districts have not implemented bilingual education. Of the 1.3 million students who were considered to be limited English proficient, only 30% of them were in bona fide bilingual programs where they are taught by bilingual teachers. Of the 30%, only half are receiving services from teachers who are fully credentialed. Of the 15%, the teachers on the average were using native language instructions only one hour a day.
What are the implications of Proposition 227 for bilingual education programs here?
Opponents of bilingual education, both locally and nationally, have already using the popularity of the California initiative as a rallying cry to push for similar changes here in Massachusetts. Publicly, conservative critics such as Mass. Board of Education member Abigail Thernstrem (also an advisory board member of the Center for Equal Opportunity) has mentioned that the Unz initiative would lead the way to the dismantling of bilingual education here. She states correctly that popular sentiments are on their side. Given the prevailing misinformation and myths about bilingual education in the mainstream media, the popularity of the Unz initiative gives the media more fodder to criticize bilingual education.
Our collective organizing efforts have been successful in defeating previous anti-bilingual education initiatives in Massachusetts. However, under the backdrop of the California initiative, the continual dominance of the anti-bilingual ideologues on the Massachusetts Board of Education, and the apparent willingness of members of the legislative leadership to "look at" the status quo of bilingual education, we will face a formidable challenge this year to protect bilingual education.
What could we do to protect bilingual education in Massachusetts?