I frequently receive messages from visitors to my website asking my opinion about bilingual education and its future in California and in the United States. This is a response to those inquiries.
Myths and Misrepresentations
Here in California we are fighting for the survival of bilingual education against the law implemented under Proposition 227. If you have kept up with the blizzard of articles on the topic in the media, mostly in support of Proposition 227 declaring its passage a success, you will notice certain myths used as central themes:
1. Bilingual education is an "experiment" that has failed–well-meaning but misguided.
2. Bilingual education is being maintained by "ethnic militants" and civil rights organizations that do not represent their "self-proclaimed" constituencies, who really don't want bilingual education.
3. Bilingual education doesn't work. The research is "inconclusive" and studies show that so-call English immersion works just as well, if not better.
4. Little immigrant children are being harmed–made the "victims" of bilingual education because precious years of schooling are being "lost" while they are not learning in English. Therefore, a ban on bilingual education is "the right thing to do" to protect these students.
5. In order to protect students who are not proficient in English, the power to decide what educational programs are in their best interests must be taken away from bilingual educators, and even the children's parents. These decisions must be made by the state electorate and carried out through strict regulation over the use of other languages in the public schools, including who and under what conditions students may study any "foreign" language.
An International Issue
A response to these myths about bilingual education comes from international human rights law protecting the interests of ethnic minorities around the world. The use of the native language of ethnic minorities is a human right that is protected by international law. It is also a civil right in the United States, which will be very difficult to now take away or restrict after 38 years of "experimentation."
According to Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (1998), the use of minority languages in public schools throughout the world is protected by international agreements as a HUMAN RIGHT. These organizations include the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). According to the OSCE October 1996 Hague Recommendations Regarding Rights of National Minorities, bilingualism is a right guaranteed to ethnic minorities. Moreover, to preserve this right the use of the mother tongue as a medium of education is recommended at all levels. The international covenant declares that "Submersion-type approaches are not in line with international standards." There is a High Commissioner of Human Rights in Holland, Max van der Stoel, who goes to countries who are in violation of this agreement to encourage their compliance, for the sake of international peace and prosperity. Conflicts over language only occur when minority groups are denied the right to use their languages freely for education and economic progress by a government.
The OSCE Recommendations declare that the first years of education in the child's language are of pivotal importance and that states must create conditions for parents to avail themselves of native language instruction for their children. The most binding law of all, however, is the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27. This provision imposes a positive obligation on the States to fulfill these educational linguistic human rights to "national minorities" by providing the unobstructed option to choose native language instruction in the public schools. The United States has signed all of these treaties.
The passage of Proposition 227 could mean that the United States is out of compliance with international agreements on the protection of linguistic human rights. If it were not for the parental waiver provisions of this law that are being interpreted in a way that allows school districts flexibility, the ban on the use of the mother tongue of language minorities as a medium of instruction would be a clear violation of linguistic human rights. As the law stands now, the restrictions on the use of students' native languages are, in my opinion, not onlyunsound pedagogically and extremely unwise, but are a violation of the civil rights of national origin minority students and their families.
Civil Rights Are Not An "Experiment"
Civil rights are not an experiment that have to produce some preordained results within a generation or they can be withdrawn. The public would not dare to proclaim desegregation of the schools an "experiment" that has failed, and proceed to reestablish "separate but equal schools" by mandate of law. Yet language rights are not a clearly defined concept in the minds of voters, especially in a society where large immigrant and ethnic populations are a relatively new phenomenon. Defining this area of human and civil rights in our public institutions is venturing into uncharted waters in a legal sense. It will most likely fall upon the federal courts to decide what laws may be unconstitutional based on the premise that citizens cannot collectively choose to vote away the civil rights of the minority. The federal courts must decide that these rights are protected in our current form of democratic lawmaking, which involves checks and balances against a tyrannical majority.
While voters, and especially the educational community, watch the debate over bilingual education in the media and among politicians, there is an important lesson to be learned about ethnic relations in a democracy. Sentiments about immigration, languages and cultures run very deep among all groups in society. Values about the use of English and other languages in the schools strike a cord about patriotism or what it means to be an American. Many believe the English language is the glue that holds an ethnically diverse community together.
In spite of language in the new law touting "parental choice" and "options", in many cases parents of limited English proficient students will actually have no choice as to whether or not their child is placed in an English-only classroom. Only in cases where they can convince school officials after 30 days of enrollment in a sheltered immersion classroom can the receive L1 instruction. Parents must persuade school officials that their child has "special physical, emotional, psychological, or educational needs" that would be better addressed by being placed in an alternative program. Only under these conditions can parents "choose" another classroom placement. This process is mockingly called a “waiver” of the students’ “right” to an English-only education.
Image this scenario with Black Americans, who after years of struggle for civil rights in 1954 established their rights to an equal education in the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka. Ignoring history, in a throwback to the days before the Supreme Court’s ruling and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they are now told by a group of politicians that a "right" to a "separate but equal" for them will be established by popular vote. In order to “waive this right” a group of 20 parents would have to persuade school officials to provide an alternative to segregation.
In this scenario, the politicians and the media tell Black Americans that they should welcome this new law and the assertion of their "rights" in the public schools because desegregation “is not working.” Politicians and a paternalistic electorate argue that the drop-out rates among Black students are still too high after nearly 50 years of integration, which "proves" that segregated programs and schools are needed. Integration as an "experimental" program is declared a failure, with flawed statistical data and a multitude of anecdotal accounts to support this popular belief. Voters are convinced to pass a law to enforce these so-called rights, believing it is in the best interest of minorities to follow the dictates of the majority.
The injustice of such a hypothetical law for Black Americans may be more obvious than the law under Proposition 227 that restricts children's access to bilingual education. During the 1960's and 70's, Latino parents and communities fought for their rights to have programs that addressed in order to have equal education because the “sink or swim” system of education did not address the special linguistic and cultural needs of children. The question that will face educators and lawmakers in the short term and long range is this: Is the thin veneer of “English language instruction” mandated in California schools consistent with the intent of the 1974 Lau vs. Nichols decision?
We do not need a new "social experiment" to inform us about what methods and programs work with non-English speaking students. All of the models of instructional programs using students' primary and second languages have existed for centuries. Language educators have commonly agreed-upon descriptions of various programs under the rubric of bilingual education. English-only is not one of these categories. In fact, English-only was tried for many years and discarded as ineffective for educating language-minority students. In 1967 it was Governor Ronald Reagan who ended California's English-only policy, in recognition of the fact that it was a failure, and an unjust obstacle to equal educational opportunity for the state's large population of Latino students. What we are experiencing is a regressive political movement based on fear and prejudice that is seeking to turn back the clock on advances made in educational equity for disadvantages groups.
Ethnic minorities, Hispanics in particular, see any law that restricts the free use of other languages in the public school as a threat to both their cultural identity and their economic well-being. Bilingualism is a resource that enhance opportunities within the English speaking and Spanish speaking communities in the United States and globally. Moreover, a high quality education is essential for advancement. Bilingual education addresses both these concerns. Having seen the popular vote often favor policies that are detrimental to their interests, minority groups look to legislation and the courts to protect their rights to self-determination and equal opportunity in all aspects of civic life, including education.
There are two diametrically opposed ways to react to the growing linguistic and cultural diversity of California. One way is to see bilingualism and multiculturalism as threats that must be controlled and suppressed. This is the perspective of those who recognize that bilingualism is an advantage but advocate for English-only in response to growing linguistic diversity. Even though they don't acknowledge it publicly, they are keenly aware that those who choose to remain monolingual may be at a disadvantage in competing with others who are bilingual or even multilingual. This is especially threatening when they see that most speakers of multiple languages are immigrants who have learned English well, while preserving and becoming educated in their native language. These are the members of the global workforce who have the advantages of English-plus rather than English-only.
The other reaction to our growing linguistic diversity is to see it as an opportunity and a resource to be cultivated for the good of the larger society, as we respond to growing global competition and culturally diverse consumer markets. In Mexico for example, bilingualism is highly valued. Many middle-class parents make great sacrifices to provide their children the opportunity to learn to speak two or more languages. Yet, many advocates of English-only in California, think learning the language of our South American neighbors is unnecessary or a waste of time and therefore not an appropriate goal for our public schools. Some even call efforts to teach biliteracy and bilingualism "absurd." What is truly absurd is to ignore the potential for enhancing our economic and cultural competitive edge by fully utilizing the linguistic resources of our region.
Among those who are particularly aware of how bilinguals have gained advantages because of their linguistic skills are U.S. born Latinos who have given up their Spanish in an effort to "assimilate" into Anglo-American culture. Many times these individuals resent bilinguals because they have passed them by in employment, job promotions and social status in educational and business settings. This is often perceived as a form of betrayal because in giving up their language and their cultural identity, they expected better opportunities for advancement in exchange. To discover that the changing demands for the work force due to demographic and social change has made a mockery of their sacrifices is a bitter realization. Consequently, many support monolingual policies in hopes of reestablishing the "old order," where becoming Anglocized held out the greatest promise of social and economic acceptance and integration.
The three most widely spoken languages in the world are Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish. We have the resources in San Diego and other parts of California to educate our children in at least two of these languages. If we are to be a forward-looking and progressive society, we should not seek to restrict opportunities to reach out to our geographical neighbors and these huge markets by denying the advantages of learning about other languages and cultures.
Is Proposition 227 the "Will of the People"?
The passage of Proposition 227 by a majority vote of 61% to 39% on June 2, 1998 has been touted as a manifestation of democracy. Many may feel that the opinions expressed in the initiative process represent "the will of the people." The Founding Fathers established a government, including the executive, legislative and the judiciary branches, with a system of checks and balances. The authors of the Constitution, especially James Madison, warned that the majority could become indifferent to the concerns of the minority, endangering the possibility that in a heterogeneous community, the majority would not represent all competing interests.
Californians should heed the lessons learned by the fact that Proposition 187 has been declared unconstitutional. The courts must rule based on established law whether or not the interests of minority groups are being violated by any new laws that are enacted, whether by legislation or through the initiative process. Lawsuits filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund in federal district court in San Francisco have raised questions about Proposition 227's constitutionality. These legal challenges are based on the provisions that guarantee language minority students the right to a "meaningful and effective" education in the 1974 Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court decision.
Teachers Challenge Lawsuit Provision of Proposition 227
The California Teachers Association in conjunction with the National Association for Bilingual Education, the Association of Mexican American Educators and the Association of Asian American Educators filed suit in December 1998 challenging the constitutionality of Section 320 of Proposition 227. Click here for my remarks regarding the CTA v. Davis decision and its impact on the teaching profession.
Education by Mutual Consent
Passage of Proposition 227 has brought about a conflict between the "will of the people" versus the "consent of the governed." Everyone who participates in a bilingual program does so by consent. Bilingual education programs are established and organized because parents and educators choose to participate. They do so expecting to derive a benefit, to which they are entitled by virtue of the taxes they pay to support the public schools. No one is forced to participate, and all have the legal right to opt out if they so choose.
Activities that are engaged in by mutual consent that do no proven harm to society as a whole are rarely banned in a democracy (Example: Prohibition and the sale of alcoholic beverages.) Peoples rights to engage in such activities in the public schools when there is agreement at the local level where citizens freely weight the benefits of competing options are likely to be upheld ultimately by the courts. Moreover, it will be impossible to "prove" that children are being harmed by learning to read and write and study math, science and social studies in their own language. Despite what many citizens may believe, human wisdom is accessible through many languages, not solely through English.
Proposition 227 is an unjust and unwise law that will do lasting and irreparable harm to millions of California's public school students. It is an unjust law because it sets up a system that denies language minority parents and their children equal access to a meaningful and effective education in our public schools. In the landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision said,
"…where a state has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
Proposition 227 mandates obstacles to implementation of pedagogically sound and effective programs for students who are classified as limited English proficient. These are obstacles that do not exist for the parents of children who speak English.
The parents of English-speaking children are not compelled to visit the schools and to solicit waivers to get programs that are effective for their children. Anglo parents of English-speakers do not have to wait for 30 days into the school year to begin an instructional program they believe to be the best for their children. They do not have to seek special permission from school officials to get programs that they, together with their children's teachers, have decided are the best for advancing their academic learning and social development.
Nor do they have to petition any panel of policy-makers like the State Board of Education to maintain programs with which they are satisfied that have yielded satisfactory scholastic results based on valid assessment criteria. This is true of parents of English-speakers unless they are seeking to maintain or establish dual immersion language programs in conjunction with parents of language minority students. In that case, as in the case of some waiver petitioners, even these Anglo native-English speaking parents face unreasonable bureaucratic barriers to effective programs that incidentally benefit non-English speakers under the provisions of Proposition 227.
Proposition 227 is deliberately and unfairly discriminatory toward language minority parents. It is based on an English-only ideology that is completely incompatible with sound educational practices and programs for language minority students. The school districts and the parents who petition for waivers know this. They wish to continue the sound programs that have been developed with great investments of time, money and effort.
Bilingual education has a solid body of research findings behind it, contrary to what opportunistic politicians have lead a gullible public to believe. The so-called researchers who deny the evidence of the effectiveness of well-implemented bilingual programs are supported and often funded fiscally by the political right-wing. We know what works for language-minority students, based on research that identifies the characteristics of effective programs where they have operated and proven themselves on multiple criteria of academic achievement and student retention. Successful programs and solid research findings over three decades tell us that there can be no meaningful and effective education for language-minority students where elements of language and culture are ignored or denigrated.
Proposition 227 Runs into Trouble
Looking down the road following passage of a Proposition 227 restricting bilingual education, one factor must be considered: How difficult is it turning out to be in practical terms to implement Proposition 227? Its authors and proponents are counting on unquestioning compliance from many public entities and individuals. State authorities are already encountering resistance from school districts who do not want to dismantle their successful programs. Resistance is also present among teachers who are angered by having to give up their professional discretion and from parents who claim their right to decide how to best educate their children. It will be difficult, costly and controversial for the state to muster the power and authority to coerce these diverse elements into compliance. It will be costly in terms of time, effort, money and political stability. So far, politicians at the state level have not shown a strong will to dictate how much primary language instruction is too much, or what types of programs must be offered by local school districts. The reasons have much more to do with political expediency than with concerns for the quality of education language minority children are receiving in the public schools. Conservatives, who usually espouse "local control" over school policies, appear reluctant to be called hypocritical and mean-spirited by going against their own beliefs to enforce state control over minority parents and educators who serve minority students. The policy that will be adopted by the administration of Governor Gray Davis regarding 227 has not yet been defined.
The televised broadcast of the 11/17/98 hearing for the Senate and Assembly Education Committee on the implementation of Proposition 227 points out many of the difficulties with the new law. This committee, chaired by Dede Alpert D-Coronado, heard testimony from representatives from the educational community, the Department of Education and State Board of Education. All the school district administrators, teachers and parents who testified struck a common cord in addressing the complexities of the law, its weaknesses, and its real impact on students and their parents. Below are the major points that came out at the hearing:
The district representatives stressed that extensive and intensive staff development is needed for all teachers in structured English immersion. The district officials pointed out that instead of decreasing the demand for BCLAD and CLAD credentialed teachers, their need has increased in terms of both the numbers and the urgency of finding teachers trained in working with LM students. They want the legislature to extend and strengthen the SB 1969 bill. Many commented that they have very few teachers who are properly trained, even among those who hold CLAD certificates and credentials, because of the demands placed by the mandate on teachers. One principal from Marysville recommended linking up with TESOL and the universities to bring experts in ELD/SDAIE in to train teachers. They also expressed frustration at the state for the large number of new mandates and program changes that are placing incredible stress on the teaching force all at once, with no time to adapt and plan sound implementation.
Districts specifically need monies for ELD materials and for training for teachers in how to use them. Many stated that they have not found appropriate materials from publishers that address ELD, literacy and content. Many are developing these materials themselves, but predict that this will be a long, slow process because it is so labor intensive. They asked for more flexibility in using state textbook monies allocated under AB2041. One witness stated that publishers are waiting for the ELD standards to be approved before beginning the design of materials, so that means more of a delay in getting them out to classrooms. Another witness said that what is needed most urgently is "staged" or developmental readers that develop language and literacy skills
The districts expressed great concerns and frustration with the parental exception waivers. One school district administrator talked about the huge cost of processing waivers, getting information out to parents, hiring translators and manning phone banks to answer parents' questions, etc. Apparently, school districts vary greatly in how much effort they have made to inform parents. A study by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute (Gándara et al, 2000) found that only 67% advised parents of their right to apply for waivers. One mother from San Diego complained that the district had not complied with the law because parents were not given any written information and meetings and other forums for informing parents were spotty. Most district representatives said that they were granting all waivers, although the representative from MALDEF said that many parents in smaller districts were being discouraged or denied waivers. She also pointed out that the State Board regulations do not require that the district have an appeals process. Consequently, in many cases, the district has denied a waiver without any due process, giving the district and not the parents the final decision. LAUSD also pointed out that the requirement of a personal school visit by the parents was very problematic for the district. Almost every district asked that the 30 day requirement and annual waiver requirement be dropped and that a one-time per child waiver be accepted. They made this petition based on both programmatic and bureaucratic reasons.
Jack McLaughlin outlined the hardships imposed on the Berkeley district by the judge's refusal to grant an injunction against 227 pending the outcome of the waiver battle. Jack eloquently expressed the local control and parental choice issues and how violated the district feels by having to alter the very carefully crafted voluntary desegregation plan that the district has worked out after many years of effort with parental and community support. He also called for the legislature to form a research group with expertise in programs for language-minority students to help work out pedagogically sound policies.
There was much discussion about the "sequential versus simultaneous" ruling of Judge Legge in Valeria G. v. Wilson. This decision relies on Castañeda v. Pickard (Texas 1981). Sonia Hernandez from the Department of Education called the sequential model "pie in the sky." She pointed out that the federal court ruling requires that there be a plan for recouping the academic deficits that occur under either model, but especially under the "sequential" model and that currently there is no plan. The State Board of Education regulations also require that the deficits be recouped but that the one-year 227 law does not require any kind of re-designation criteria. Hernandez also pointed out that the Language Arts Framework in its equal access chapter offers no guidance whatsoever to districts and teachers as to how to ensure that LEP students achieve the academic standards.
The issue of unkept promises by the proponents of 227 made during the campaign for its passage came up several times. Several witnesses said that the promise that dual immersion programs and foreign language instruction would not be affected by 227 was totally untrue. There was a common complaint from the school districts that all the staff development, new instructional materials, administrative costs and remedial programs are very costly and burdensome in terms of available personnel and financial resources with no funding augmentation from the state.
Premature Cries of Victory
In an article by Ron Unz in the Weekly Standard (March 1, 1999), the author of Proposition 227 makes an assessment about the "success" of the new law on behalf of immigrant parents and their children, who he claims "…were rescued form crippling English illiteracy by passage of Prop. 227." The article is an appeal to the Republican party to use "the drawing power of the English education issue for immigrant voters" to bolster the failing political fortunes of California Republicans. He concedes that "…[N]ationally, the ethnic outlook for Republicans is bleak, but points to the success of 227 and the fact that it drew 40% of the Latino vote as indicators that anti-bilingual education campaigns will draw popular support among minority voters." His "evidence" of the success of 227 is that 80% fewer students are now enrolled in bilingual programs and that those programs that have survived have increased their English content "as a defensive move." Unz also cites articles in the LA Times regarding how former bilingual education teachers are impressed with how quickly students are learning English as testimony of the success of Prop. 227.
The premise of Unz's argument is that the push for English-only is a unifying force politically and socially. However, those of us who are observers of attitudes among ethnic groups and language minority communities remain unconvinced. We are advocates and researchers of effective schooling practices for language minority students who believe that there can be no educational equity or equal opportunity for speakers of other languages in schools where those languages are restricted and degraded.
Leaving aside arguments for or against the political expediency of Unz's advise to Republicans, we can assess his arguments based on pedagogical principles and issues of educational equity. Unz assumes that any short term successes of "sheltered immersion" will turn into long term gains in academic achievement. He sets his goal for English language learners very low, stating that scores in the twentieth or twenty-fifth percentile on the SAT-9 for language minority students will cause any opposition to 227 to completely collapse. In other words, having these students performing at three standard deviations below the mean, two standard deviations below the average range, will satisfy Unz and his supporters. This equates to scores that place these students two to three grade levels behind their native English-speaking peers. Whether or not this low level of academic performance among LM students will satisfy their parents and teachers, even the general public, is highly doubtful. Nor should it satisfy the federal courts, since Judge Legge's decision mandates that serves be provided to LEP students until they reach the 40th percentile on a standardized test in order to demonstrate that they have recouped any academic deficit that occurred while they were learning English. Such low expectations for language minority are especially troubling in light of the policy mandating retention of students based on standardized test scores.
The push to end "social promotion" by the state governors is just another sad example of "crowd-pleaser school reform" that will end up doing much more harm than good. This is really a policy of retention–flunking kids, if it call it by its real rather than its euphemistic name. Which students are the ones who will be retained? We know already that such policies will impact minority students disproportionately. In states like California and Texas with highly linguistically and culturally diverse student populations, language minority students will be harmed the very most. California, for example, has 25% of the total school-aged population that is classified as limited in English proficiency.
In California this is an especially cruel policy in light of passage of Proposition 227 restricting bilingual education last June. The new law requires that English language learners receive a one-year program of English instruction before being mainstreamed into regular classes. In other words, for at least one year, the focus of instruction must be on teaching these children language skills, with literacy and content learning taking a back seat. Then, the children will be expected to catch up in the content they missed out on while learning English, with English language and literacy skills that are far from being fully developed. Then, if they don't make two years of academic progress for every one year of instruction between grades 1-4, they face retention. This accelerated academic progress must take place in classrooms where teachers are not required to have any specialized training whatsoever in teaching language minority students and in programs designed with native-English speakers' needs in mind, not theirs. These children have no guarantees of receiving appropriate instruction to address their language development and content-area learning deficits, either before or after being retained.
A recent study of achievement factors among Hispanic students conducted by researchers at the University of California at Santa Clara (Rumberger & Larson, 1998) found that students who were over-aged in high school due to retention and other factors were 80% more likely to drop out of school before graduation.
Why make language minority children pay the price for poor educational policies and political demagoguery that result in inadequate programs and gross educational inequities? Our society must not let politicians at the state and national level get off the hook of "accountability" to minority communities who are negatively impacted politically appealing but educationally unsound policies promoted out of their ambitions to secure votes.
The rosy picture of life under Proposition 227 that Ron Unz paints for the public leaves out the blotches that concern parents and teachers. For instance, in January 13, 1999 article in the LA Times (Sahagun), there is this remark.
"In interviews at 13 Los Angeles Unified School District campuses with large immigrant populations, primary grade teachers said their students are absorbing verbal English at a surprising pace. Some children are even taking the next step and learning to read and write in English. Still, many of these teachers and other educators question whether most of the youngsters have acquired the language skills necessary to comprehend math, reading or history lessons in English. Some suggest that students are imitating, or parroting, their English-speaking teachers rather than thinking in the language. Many worry that the children are falling behind in their studies as they struggle with a new language and that they will not be ready to enter mainstream English classes within one year, as Proposition 227 calls for."
The game of half-truths and misleading anecdotes continues from the campaign, perhaps because Unz sees the need to still drum up support from wayward followers who may be tiring of the issue or may be discouraged by the true lack of success of enforcement efforts through the threat of lawsuits against teachers. We must keep in mind that legal actions to restrict bilingual education are about power, not pedagogy. Proposition 227 is an attempt to deny educational opportunities to groups who have very little power in our society. Language minority groups are often powerless to express their will and seek advantages in their circumstances in the face of opposition from a fearful and prejudiced majority who cannot, or will not, grant unfettered civil and human rights to speakers of languages other than English.
A Lesson in Cultural Diversity
California is learning its first hard lesson in what it means to practice democracy in a linguistically and culturally diverse society. How to take advantage of the state's diversity without resorting to tactics of cultural domination and denial of the rights of ethnic minorities is California's greatest challenge for the 21st century. I believe that eventually we will reject extremism and return to a "live and let live" mode of peaceful co-existence. It may take awhile, but somehow we will work it out and learn tolerance and respect in the process. Bilingual education will survive this "trial" in the courts of law. Then we can once again take up the battle to win in the court of public opinion.
As an ethnically diverse population in our state, we must learn to live together. This means that we must struggle with practical realities of how we compromise and cooperate with each other to improve education for all our children, regardless of what language they speak and what cultural values they hold dear. If the majority is seen as arbitrary and uncompromising in considering the wishes and concerns of the minority, it will harm ethnic relations and poison the well of the democratic process for all of us. The true glue that holds us together as a nation is not English. Rather, it is a respect for democracy that balances the interests of the whole community to provide equal opportunity for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" so we can advance as a united people.
What the future holds for bilingual education: Reflections on NABE '99
I attended the National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Denver. Evangelina Jones, Emily Palacio and I presented THE CALEXICO SUCCESS STORY, with our research on teachers and classrooms in the Calexico Unified School District. It was gratifying to be among a group of 5,000 like-minded people from around the nation who are dedicated to equal educational opportunity for language minority children. It was especially important for me to be reminded that California is not the only place in the world and not necessarily a leader among the states in the nation. I witnessed the courage and the struggles of many teachers, parents, administrators, researchers and university professors who continue to reach toward a vision of a more tolerant, open society that values its diversity of languages and cultures.
I had the opportunity to attend some excellent presentations. My interests lead me to several workshops on expected gains in English and academic proficiency, assessment and evaluation, and policy issues. What I see is confirmation of what our research over the past 20-30 years has told us all along–it takes from 3-5 years for students to acquire full English proficiency and 5-7 years longer for them to "catch up" academically. School districts are more carefully documenting students' progress, finding that students on average in effective programs gain about one language level per year. The Adams County School District 50 in Westminster, Colorado has produced an electronic report card and tracking system called SAMIS that is tracking students progress on language assessment (Woodstock-Muñoz administered annually) that is yielding data to support this trend. Their system also tracks mastery of CO's academic standards for each student. The software is very affordable and is being made available to school districts. The Superintendent is Michael Massorotti, if you wish to inquire. What impressed me was how much data the system could make available at the click of a mouse for "accountability" purposes and program evaluation. I also attended a workshop on Ed DeAvila's research on expected gains using the LAS. Check it out on the NCBE website.
The states of Colorado and Florida appear to have their acts together for their LM students a lot better than we do. Colorado's Dept. of Ed is collaborating with the Office of Civil Rights and an organization of directors of bilingual education called ADOBE to ensure that students are truly being provided access to meaningful education. In a presentation they explained how after resolving an initially confrontational relationship, they are now working closely together toward their common goal of making sure that all children receive appropriate instruction. Colorado is a local control state, so the CDE has defined its role as one of ensuring that school districts are providing the program structures and resources to support sound teaching and that schools are responding by effectively utilizing their resources. The Colorado State Department of Education is using the school accreditation process to guarantee that school districts and schools are effective. I did not get the impression that there exists a "blame the teacher" attitude toward "accountability" like we have in California.
I recognized during this presentation that the poisonous, divisive political climate in CA, where the education of language minority students has been made so controversial and contentious would be a huge obstacle to implementing such a system. However, I also believe that we must work to come to the point where our educational policy-makers at the state level see equal access for language minority students as a goal and a priority.
Norm Gold, Laurie Olson, Jim Crawford and Eugene García presented a highly insightful and motivating session on ¿Qué pasó en California? An analysis of 227. My congratulations to all four for their excellent analysis and for their heroic efforts in support of justice for language minority children. This session was very helpful to understand the "big picture" of where California's particular brand of sentiment about immigration and language minorities fits into the political battles and "cultural wars" now being wages in the political arena here in our state and around the nation.
Dr. García is conducting research into implementation of Proposition 227 around the state. Preliminary findings indicate that there are three levels of implementation in classrooms and at the school and district levels. These are "defiance, surface compliance, and total compliance." There are some teachers who are courageously saying, "They can go ahead and sue me–I'm going to do what is best for my students." These teachers are going about their job of teaching using the native language for literacy and content instruction. Other schools have changed the names of their program offerings to conform to the law, but are really carrying out instruction much as before the law was passed, either with parental waivers or with administrators' tacit or informed consent. Other schools are following the law closely , interpreting it in ways that they find are as effective as possible within the legal framework spelled out in the statute. There are no statistics available as to how many schools or districts fall into each category. However, Dr. García suggested that where bilingual programs have been effectively implemented in the past, they have survived the "tornado" effect, where others have been completely dismantled.
The good news is that bilingual education is not dead and that we have learned many valuable lessons that will help us confront threats now and in the future. We recognize the importance of grass roots organizing and articulate statements of the media to educate the public about what bilingual education is and when and how it is successful. There were many excellent presentations on successful programs from around the nation, with an emphasis on dual immersion and programs that develop biliteracy. We especially need to follow successful programs in Texas and Florida, where politicians and the business community are emphasizing the economic benefits, even the necessity, for having a bilingual, multicultural work force in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
I came away from the conference with the sense that although these are times of struggle, there is just reason for optimism. As Bob Dylan reminds us, "The times, they are a-changin'. Those of us who are now entering our third and even fourth decade as part of the struggle for civil rights and social justice are still strong, and much much wiser than before. We will continue to see times change, knowing that ultimately we will triumph. There will be no long range victory for intolerance, racism and ignorance. We will prevail.
Click here for an update of Proposition 227's impact after two years of implementation: Proposition 227's Second Anniversary: Triumph or Travesty.
Crawford, J.W., García, E., Gold, N., & Olsen, L. (1999). ¿Qué pasó en California? Lessons from Proposition 227. National Association for Bilingual Education Conference (January 30).
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Rumberger, R.W., & Larson, K.A. (1998). Toward explaining differences in educational achievement among Mexican American Language-Minority Students. Sociology of Education (71), 69-93.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1998). Human rights and language wrongs: Future for diversity. In Benson, P. Grundy, P. & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (Eds.) Language Sciences, 20:1, Special issue, "Language rights, 5-27.