Should California Assembly Allow Bilingual Education? Essay

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Should California Assembly Allow Bilingual Education?

Proposition 227, “English for the Children,” came into being by way of voter approval, June 1998, and controversy has surrounded it ever since its implementation into the 1998-99 school year for the state of California. With changes in the educational standards set for bilingual students and specifically children of Spanish speaking immigrants, a variety of questions surrounding this topic begin to manifest. Is this a social problem? Who is affected by this quandary and how widespread is it? Is there a decline of bilingual education? Examination of the phenomenon, who is affected by it, the possible underlying causes of the dilemma, along with the history prior to and surrounding Proposition 227 are to be considered when attempting to answer the question of California’s Assembly allowing bilingual education to continue.

Social Problem?

If Spanish speaking children are heavily exposed to learning English, will they have a better chance at acquiring full fluency in the language? If they are taught English, in English, in English classrooms, and instructed to speak only English, will this methodology continue to fuel the fires surrounding anti-immigrant attitudes, language-based discrimination, and racial/ethnic conflict as felt by Spanish speaking communities? Is the concept of Proposition 227’s fast and efficient guidelines to teach children English within 180 days reasonable? One academic year to be immersed in an SEI (Structured English Immersion) program appears to take away from other core subjects such as Math, Science, and History. Are these same students considered fluent efficient to be mainstreamed into regular classrooms?

Who is affected and how widespread is the dilemma?

The United States is a diverse country that has an ever-expanding population of Spanish speaking immigrants, particularly in the California area. Some of these students are not excelling in the academic environment due to lack of English proficiency. Any student whose birth language is not English is affected, Latino students in particular, who are bilingual and/or children of immigrants. Chinese students in the San Francisco area were a target group in the early 1970’s, which in turn resulted in the Lau v. Nichols suit brought to the judicial system in 1974.

The current focus of students seems to be on Latino students, with an increase in ELL’s (English Language Learners) from 29% in the beginnings of Proposition 227 to today’s post 227 37% for the 2003-04 school year. In 2002, Jill Kerper Mora noted that California’s enrollment was 45% of the immigrant student population for the nation, as early as 1995 (30). Olivos and Quintano de Valladolid noted in 2005, two years prior, there was evidence showing Latino drop out rates between the ages of 16 and 19 years of age were 59% (287).

The question of the dilemma doesn’t just sit with California, as other states are affected by the problem as well. Arizona (proposition 203), Colorado, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah are feeling the affects of California legislation and proposition 227, along with the question of the effectiveness of bilingual education as of current standards.

Causes of the social problem

The acceptance of the Spanish language, or non-acceptance, due to racial and ethnic prejudice has been believed to be a long standing culprit in the causes of the problem in question. Yet, the teaching requirements necessary for producing efficient educators comes under fire, and maybe be a more direct cause of the dilemma in question.

Good bilingual programs have to sustain a sufficient amount of bilingual teachers, and without the necessary steps in preparation and credentialing of college students enrolled in and graduating from education programs, the needs of ELL’s are not being met. With the needs not being met by these students, the performance levels on English standardized tests are low, which was one of the reasons why Proposition 227 was put into place.

Standards continue to change over time, and the rigidity of teaching from a Eurocentric, “English only” format seems to be taking over the educational structure.

There is the belief by some teachers that their time and experience as educators should be enough to be able to teach bilingual students, and then the opposing belief that reaching out to students in the school environment is not enough; that to go into the communities is also beneficial for making a difference in meeting educational needs.

History of the social problem

Historically, many propositions, acts, and bills have been formed, vetoed, passed and put into action, and have come to be part of the outline for the birth of Proposition 227. In 1965, the Bilingual Education Act was signed, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to attempt to meet the needs of ELL’s through plan and development of programs in the education system, as well as to provide proper training for teachers. It was shortly after such programs were established, that anti-bilingual education attacks were sanctioned by conservative politicians.

For California in 1976, the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act and the reauthorization of the Bilingual Education Act helped foster the Bilingual Certification Competence (BCC) to examine and focus on teacher fluency, along with knowledge of culture to effectively teach bilingual students; the LDS (Language Development Specialist) was a companion to the BCC; this was directed towards teachers who were not proficient in Spanish but were teaching ELL’s.

In 1992, the CCTC began working on changes for the teacher credentialing process, which came into place in 1994. Four years later, Proposition 227, with its nine articles of descriptive policy guidelines, came into formation and was passed by California voters. Its impact was not to be felt until two years after its introduction to the 1998-99 school year.

Examining each article, there is a consistent focus on “English only,” which raises the question if this proposition was passed to assist Spanish speaking students to integrate into the English speaking classrooms, or by chance to deter speaking his or her birth language.

The insistence upon learning to speak English by way of being taught in English, in an “English only” class room setting, seems to implicate the necessity to cast aside the first language learned, and most likely spoken in the home, to become efficient in speaking the English language implemented in “The Land of Opportunity,” the United States of America. Buried within the depths of America history is the knowledge that over 5000 languages and dialects were spoken on this land mass before European invasion began; so what really is the language that should be spoken here in the United States?

Current Policy

Two years after the implementation of proposition 227, the effects of this policy could be seen as test scores for standardized tests went up across California. And although those test scores rose for all students, not just LEP’s and ELL’s, the significance of the gain/loss of bilingual programs is still under investigation. Gandara noted in 2000 that second-grad LEP’s test scores for English went from 15% in 1998 to 25% just two years later, placing the children in the 50th percentile in English reading on the state wide exam (3).

Yet, even with the results showing through standardized test scores, is this because of the educational structure available through bilingual instruction or the transference to the more widely implemented English Immersion program availability? Is it to say that bilingual instruction is still being used in the classroom setting available to Spanish speaking students, or is the educational movement towards “English only?”

With continued efforts to place Spanish speaking and bilingual students in English Immersion programs persists, with little attention afforded to the slowly disappearing bilingual instructional programs, will an emphasis be focused on a widening learning gap between Spanish speaking and bilingual students v. English speaking students?

If that were to be the case, are we as a nation, a diverse country which offers the freedom of choice and opportunity to be achieved, supporting a movement to discourage “foreign” languages to be spoken, and supporting the campaign for a mono-linguistic, homogenized nation? The demand for “English only” continues to place prominence on racial/ethnic prejudice, a “disease” fought against since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

All children have a right to a properly given educational opportunity; cultural difference should be embraced, respected and shared with the various communities of the diverse population of the United States of America, the land of opportunity.

Works Cited
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