Jewish World Review March 31, 2003 / 27 Adar II, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Anti-billingual crusader deserves muchas gracias
In 1998, leftist activists ganged up on Proposition 227, which
mandated English immersion classes for most limited-English students. The
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and California Teachers
Association opposed the measure.
It didn't matter, as the Los Angeles Times had reported, that in
the preceding year 1,150 state schools failed to promote any limited-English
students to English fluency. President Clinton's Education Secretary Richard
Riley told The San Francisco Chronicle the measure was a "disaster." Gray
Davis, then a candidate for governor, opposed 227. So did his two Democratic
rivals and state schools chief Delaine Eastin.
Activists accused then-Gov. Pete Wilson of race-baiting in
supporting the "wedge" measure. Pundits warned that to the extent
Republicans supported 227, the GOP would alienate Latino voters. GOP
gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren came out against 227.
California voters approved the measure by 61 percent of the
The voters, you see, wanted results, not excuses. Proposition
227 mandated that public schools place English learners in immersion
classes, unless their parents opted for bilingual education classes.
Last week, the state Department of Education released figures
that showed that the number of limited-English students who meet minimum
standards in English skills rose to 34 percent in 2002 -- that's up from 11
percent in 2001.
English proficiency for students in bilingual education rose as
well, if not as well as immersion students, from a lousy 3 percent in 2001
to 16 percent in 2002. The good news is that 227's focus on English seems to
have rubbed off on the bilingual lobby.
Ron Unz, the millionaire techno-geek author of 227, cites state
STAR test reading scores that show that the number of limited-English
second-graders (not in bilingual ed) scoring above the national average
doubled, from 18 percent in 1998 to 36 percent in 2002. In the same time
frame, the reading scores of bilingual-ed second graders crept from 13
percent to 14 percent.
Math STAR scores rose from 34 percent to 51 percent for
limited-English non-bilingual second-graders.
As Unz boasted, "What we're talking about is the largest
controlled experiment in the history of American education" in "the largest
state in America, and their test scores have doubled." Here I have to
disagree. The largest experiment was bilingual education. It was nationwide.
It failed year after year, yet the establishment kept pouring money into it
while manufacturing excuses for rampant failure.
When Unz came along with his admittedly strict measure,
activists and educrats said they agreed that bilingual education needed
fixing; then they balked at any real solution.
Activists called 227 proponents "anti-immigrant." They charged
that the campaign was out to hurt immigrant children. Some hinted, others
came out and said, that the motive behind 227 was racist.
In the short run, the racist-baiting worked. A majority of
Latino voters voted against 227.
But in the long run, the fear-and-smear campaign failed. Last
month, voters in the heavily Latino Santa Ana Unified School District
overwhelmingly recalled a school board member who had been a staunch
advocate of bilingual education. Unz sees that recall as a Latino
endorsement of his immersion mission.
In 1998, students heckled Unz. Activists ridiculed him.
Educators scorned him. That's the thanks Unz got for spending his time and
money for a measure that, it turns out, has eased the journey for hundreds
of thousands of immigrant children toward the American dream.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate