Bilingual ed forces waging uphill fight.
By Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 10/6/2002
Surrounded in their office by marked-up maps, laptops, and crinkled
news clippings, opponents of Question 2 seem primed for the battle to maintain
bilingual education in Massachusetts. They enjoy the powerful support of labor
unions and much of the Bay State's political establishment, and the strategists
of national campaigns, including Al Gore's presidential run.
But will that collective muscle be enough to topple Ron Unz - their wealthy
California adversary whose crusade to end bilingual education has rolled to easy
victories in two states?
Trailing in the polls with about four weeks before the Nov. 5 election, the
for Fairness to Children and Teachers, or FACT, has launched the crucial stages
of what many political analysts say is an uphill struggle against a man with
both money and an appealing message. In California and Arizona, where voters
handily approved measures replacing bilingual education with English immersion,
Unz defied the traditional political machinery of field organization:
advertisements, voter outreach, and emotion-packed rallies featuring children
With the fight now in Massachusetts, Unz's opponents are deploying those same
tactics, as well as others - and hoping for better results.
''People who support the Unz initiative do so because they think it's in the
best interest of kids, and our message is that it's not,'' FACT campaign manager
Owen Eagan said. ''I don't think this initiative enjoys deep support. Everyone
is for teaching kids English. It's just a matter of what is the most effective
way to do that.''
Unz's reponse: ''I could spout their arguments better than they can. It's almost
word-for-word, event-for-event what happened in California and Arizona. It's
The simplicity of Unz's message - ''English for the Children'' - carried it to
victory in those two states despite their substantial minority populations. One
challenge for FACT: Many in those communities can't or don't vote. And
publicizing the consequences of Question 2, such as the option to sue teachers,
requires more explanation than can fit on a bumper sticker.
''The question is, can they overcome the fundamental wording of the referendum,
which is so innocuous as to be difficult for anybody to say no to?'' asked Lou
DiNatale, a political analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. ''I
think they will make it tighter. The question is, can they win?''
Bilingual programs let non-English students learn in their native tongues and
ease into courses where English is spoken. Almost all education research shows
that such transitional methods work - if done well. But opponents, citing low
test scores of limited-English students, say the better way is to teach them
English from day one.
A new law lets Massachusetts school districts choose their own way of educating
the state's 39,000 bilingual students, in exchange for stricter state oversight.
Legislators approved it this summer, hoping it will deflect Question 2, which
would place students in English immersion classes intended to last a year, with
The two sides of the issue have sharply different styles and approaches.
FACT has a paid staff of five and is getting advice from political consultant
Charles Glick and Doug Hattaway, spokesman for Gore's 2000 presidential
campaign. It has banners, buttons, signs, and phone banks. It has held rallies
on the State House steps, sponsored demonstrations on the first day of school,
and attended meetings of grass-roots groups that are joining the fight.
At a small rally last week sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee
Advocacy Coalition, Glick called Question 2 unfair to new arrivals in the United
States. It resonated with Litzania Garcia, who came to Boston 14 years ago from
''Every immigrant has the right to have two languages,'' Garcia, 38, of Chelsea
said. ''You can put small kids in English because they learn quickly. But its
very unfair for people coming to this country who are older kids.''
By contrast, Unz's Massachusetts campaign has just one paid staffer: Lincoln
Tamayo, a former principal of Chelsea High School who runs the local campaign
out of his Hamilton home. It is also working with Christine H. Rossell, a Boston
University political science professor who has studied bilingual programs, and
Rosalie Pedalino Porter, a consultant who formerly directed bilingual education
in Newton public schools.
Unz flies across the country raising money and touting his initiative; a similar
one will be on the November ballot in Colorado. One Massachusetts donor, Raymond
S. Stata, founder of Analog Devices of Norwood, gave the campaign $40,000
without having met Unz personally. Stata said he believes in Unz's message of
The most recent finance reports show that Unz's campaign has only about $5,700
on hand, while FACT has about $31,000.
Nevertheless, Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire, is breezily confident,
distributing press clippings and charts of his take on California's test scores
under English immersion - some of which are the same ones that his opponents
use, with opposite interpretations. Proposition 227 in California won 61 percent
of the vote.
Unz and Tamayo say they will match whatever television and radio advertising
their opponents buy. But they eschew the pep rallies, preferring debates, media
interviews, and low-key addresses to political groups.
At a Brandeis University forum last week, Porter sat on a panel with bilingual
proponents and talked to college students, most of whom weren't registered to
vote in Massachusetts. But she didn't mince words.
''These programs tend to segregate children by language and ethnicity for
several years,'' she said. ''They do not necessarily result in better academic
performance. Delaying the real learning of English for several years makes it
that much harder.''
FACT is solidifying part of its base by aggressively courting minority
communities and immigrants' rights groups. But if California's Proposition 227
is any guide, bilingual proponents will have to cast a far wider net, some say.
Luis R. Fraga, an associate professor of political science at Stanford
University in Palo Alto, Calif., said the dominance of white voters helped
Proposition 227. Exit polls showed that 67 percent of white voters supported it.
An almost identical percentage of Latino voters voted against the measure - but
Latinos made up only 14 percent of registered voters then, while whites
comprised 71 percent, Fraga
''Within white voters, they've got to identify who the key supporters are and
find out what types of arguments are likely to appeal to those voters,'' Fraga
Eagan said the campaign is targeting moderate white voters, a large part of the
electorate, and trying to force others to pay attention by getting the two major
gubernatorial candidates to speak on the issue. Republican Mitt Romney supports
the initiative, while Democrat Shannon O'Brien opposes it.
Still, Maria S. Quezada, executive director of the California Association for
Bilingual Education, warns that Unz's message can resonate easier than people
''He knows the formula,'' Quezada said. ''He has the money and the power and the
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/6/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.