Prop 227 still raises tempers
But a new study is beginning to answer some politically
By Kim Minugh -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, December 16, 2004
Six years after its passage, the impact of Proposition 227 on
the education of California's English-learner population is
still hotly debated.
But answers might come in August, when the American
Institutes of Research presents a statewide evaluation to the
In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, which aimed
to eliminate most bilingual education programs, with 60.9
percent of the vote.
The study, "Effects of Implementation of Proposition 227 on
Education of English-Learners, K-12," aims to evaluate the law's
impact as well as the performance of non-native English speakers
since its passage.
Study co-director Amy Merickel said initial analysis shows
two significant findings:
* Proposition 227 significantly reduced the number of
English-learners receiving bilingual instruction.
* Academic performance by those students does not vary
greatly with the method of instruction.
Merickel cautioned, however, that the study is in its early
stages, and the findings could change.
Before the law, 29 percent of California's English-learner
population was in bilingual programs. By the 2001-02 school
year, that portion had dropped to 11 percent.
The study also shows that between the 1997-98 and 2000-01
school years, 15 percent of schools statewide had dropped their
bilingual programs and only 9 percent had continued them.
But Merickel stressed that bilingual education has never been
as widely practiced as some believe. In that same four-year
period, 66 percent of schools never had a program.
The remaining 10 percent of schools could not be classified
because of insufficient data, Merickel said.
"People often assume the majority of English-learners
received bilingual education," she said. "It's just not the
Also, teachers struggle with the meaning of Proposition 227
and how it affects their job, she said. Some believe that
speaking any Spanish in class could get them sued, while others
use Spanish more liberally.
"There's a lot of confusion surrounding what the law is in
teachers' minds," Merickel said.
Bilingual programs still exist despite Proposition 227
because the law allows for waivers in certain cases.
According to the state legislative analyst's interpretation
of the law, those cases include: a child at least 10 years of
age whose principal and teachers think instruction in another
language would be better for the child; a child has been in an
English class for at least 30 days and the principal, teachers
and district agree that instruction in another language would be
better for the child; or a child already fluent in English whose
parents want him or her to experience instruction in another
Ron Unz, author of Proposition 227, said the law intended for
waivers to be granted in only a small number of cases.
"The number of waivers these districts grant are way more
than they are legally allowed to grant," Unz said.
But José Cintrón, chairman of the Bilingual/Multicultural
Education Department at California State University, Sacramento,
said it is important for educators to advocate for bilingual
education. "It still is a viable and appropriate way to teach
kids," he said. "It has not died and gone away."
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