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Bilingual education initiative on Calif. ballot this Nov.

September 2, 2014
students write on worksheets in classroom


Second graders Jayden Lew and Giselle Ortega work on their Spanish grammar at Edison Elementary School in Glendale, where they are enrolled in a dual language immersion program.


Bilingual education could make a comeback

After nearly two decades, bilingual education in California could stage a resurgence if the state Senate approves a bill in August that would put the issue on the ballot in November 2016.

Since the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, schools have been banned from offering classes taught in a language other than English without express permission from parents, among other requirements. The initiative, which passed with 61 percent of the vote, overhauled a system where the default assignment for English learners was a class taught in their native language.

“We were outspent on advertising 24 to 1 and we still won one of the largest landslides in California political history,” said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley businessman who sponsored the ballot initiative.

Bilingual education, as it was practiced in California prior to the passage of Prop. 227, provided instruction to non-English speakers in their primary language in some or all academic subjects. Bilingual students also took classes specifically aimed at teaching them English. The goal, as they progressed, was for more and more of each class to be taught in English.

Though many felt as Unz did about bilingual education, Prop.227 remains controversial among educators. Many point to studies showing that high-quality bilingual education can help English-learner students transition to English-language classes. But even many educators believe the old bilingual system was flawed. English learners make up nearly a quarter of California’s public schoolchildren and, under the old system, they could remain in Spanish or other language classes for years without becoming fluent in English. And quality varied immensely from classroom to classroom, said Elena Fajardo, the administrator of the Language Policy and Leadership Office at the California Department of Education.

“Based on my experience, the quality of the instructor, the quality of the instruction, the program design and the adherence to that design is really where the benefits lie,” Fajardo said.

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