Restore Bilingual Education
Proposition 227, passed in 1998, required that all California public school students, especially children whose native language is other than English, be taught in English-only programs. A greatly reduced number of schools continue to offer bilingual education, but the imposition of a complicated waiver process makes this option a rarity.
Proposition 58, placed on the ballot by the California State Legislature, will restore the option of bilingual education and remove the waiver requirement. Parents of English learners would be given a choice of instructional methods, including intensive English only instruction.
Research shows that a good bilingual program, which begins with instruction in a child’s native language and transitions gradually to instruction in English, is the best way for students to learn basic skills and concepts and the English language. How this works is not clear from a surface view.
It seems to most people that young children learn new languages quickly and would learn best by total immersion in the new language. This is caused by mistaking fluency for proficiency. Young children pick up everyday language more quickly and with better pronunciation than do adults, but that is not the same as the ability to think, read, and write in a language.
Learning to read requires multiple skills: letter-sound recognition, familiarity with syntax (the rules a language follows), and knowledge of the content or meaning of words and sentences. For a child to put these skills together, it is important to be familiar with the sounds, syntax, and vocabulary of the language. He or she will be most successful initially learning to read and write in the native language. As the child learns more English, he or she will more easily learn to read in English because the complex of reading skills will already be in place.
Proposition 58 is being touted by its proponents as a tool for all students to be prepared for the global economic system. They are downplaying the fact that immigrant populations were most negatively affected by the almost complete elimination of bilingual education since the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998. Their selling point is that Proposition 58 will promote dual-immersion programs in which native English speakers can learn a second language while students with a different native language learn English.
While second language instruction is good for everyone, what is most important is that we provide the best instruction possible for all of our students, especially those whose needs have been ignored or discounted. This can only be done if we restore bilingual education for English language learners. Vote yes on Proposition 58.