January 9, 1998

Resolution: In opposition to the Unz/Tuchman California Ballot Initiative: 'English Language Education for Immigrant Children'

Whereas the Linguistic Society of America has already expressed its opposition to the restrictive nature of the 'English Only' movement; and

Whereas the Society clearly addresses in its 'Statement of Language Rights' (Section 10.D) the right of residents of the United States:

 "To have their children educated in a manner that affirmatively acknowledges their native language abilities as well as ensures their acquisition of English"; and

Whereas the proposed amendment to Section 1 Chapter 3 of the Educational Code of California entitled 'English Language Education for Immigrant Children' would effectively deny these language rights;

Be it resolved that the Society make known its opposition to the proposed amendment.

 Approved 9 January 1998 by the members of the Linguistic Society of America attending the 1998 Annual Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York, NY.


 The Linguistic Society of America was founded in 1924 to advance the scientific study of language. The Society's present membership of approximately 7000 people and institutions includes a great proportion of the leading experts on language in the United States, as well as many from abroad. Many of the Society's members have experience with, or expertise in, bilingualism and multilingualism. Despite increasing interest in these topics, public debate is all too often based on misconceptions about language. In June 1996, the Society published a general 'Statement on Language Rights' that was intended to address some of these misconceptions and urge the protection of basic language rights.

 The Society's January 1998 "Resolution in Opposition to the Unz/Tuchman California Ballot Initiative 'English Language Education for Immigrant Children'" follows directly from our position on language rights. In this addendum to the January 1998 Resolution, we would like to comment specifically on a number of the misconceptions in the Unz/Tuchman Initiative and draw attention to numerous references in the literature that provide substantive, evidence-based treatments of these issues.

 While the Unz/Tuchman Initiative resolves that "all children in California public school shall be taught English as rapidly and effectively as possible," their plan for implementation, in fact, seriously undermines such a goal.

The Unz/Tuchman Initiative proposes that:

 1. "all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English" in strictly English language classrooms.

 Response: The Unz/Tuchman Initiative is proposing to abandon successful programs in bilingual education for a system that has long been recognized as ineffective.

 When the Bilingual Education Act was signed into law (2 January 1968), limited English proficient (LEP) students--unable to understand their teachers in English-only classrooms--were falling behind in their academic studies and dropping out of school at alarming rates. In California, for example, half of all Mexican-American youth, ages 18-24, failed to complete the 8th grade. (National Association for Bilingual Education Website:

 The Bilingual Education Act was further supported by the Supreme Court's 1974 ruling in Lau v. Nichols, where the court found San Francisco's failure to provide adequate English instruction to 1800 Chinese-speaking students discriminatory and illegal.

 More recently, two years ago, the California legislature deregulated bilingual education programs throughout the state. This gives schools and school districts the right to choose the kinds of programs that would be most effective for their LEP students and ensures local community input for vital educational decisions. The "one size fits all" Unz/Tuchman Initiative would restrict these options.

 The right to an appropriate education has had a major positive impact on LEP children's success. In fact, thirty years later, rising test scores, increased college attendance, and brighter career paths testify to the fact that bilingual education has made a difference for LEP students. As Crawford and others point out, a growing body of research evidence shows that well-designed bilingual programs are academically effective--without holding back students' acquisition of English (Crawford 1995; Genesee 1987; Cummins 1984, 1988). A bilingual program of particular proven merit is the "Two-Way Bilingual Education" or "Dual Immersion" program.

 Two-Way Bilingual Education or Dual Immersion--LEP and native English-speaking students aquire each other's languages in a developmental bilingual education environment that features collaborative learning and a challenging curriculum. Thegoal is to help both groups meet high academic standards and develop fluent bilingualism and full literacy in two languages. Students are typically enrolled in these programs for five or more years. [Crawford, 1997]

2. "children who are English learners shall be educated through sheltered immersion during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one year."
This time span is equivalent to only 180 classroom days. According to Unz/Tuchman, "'Sheltered English immersion' or 'structured English immersion' means an English language acquisition process for young children in which nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for children who are learning the language."

Response: This one year plan follows from the Unz/Tuchman assumption that "young immigrant children can easily acquire full fluency in a new language, such as English, if they are heavily exposed to that language in the classroom at an early age." No research findings reported to date support the claim that second language fluency can be achieved by these children in a single year using a curriculum that "dumbs down" the language level and content to accommodate the fact that English is being spoken to students who cannot understand it. In a large-scale, longitudinal study of 2000 Spanish-speaking children (in nine school districts in California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) that focused upon structured English immersion as well as early-exit and late-exit bilingual education programs for language-minority children, Ramirez, Yuen, Ramey, and Pasta (1991) reported the following statistics on the time span required for LEP students in structured English immersion programs to be reclassified as "fluent iEnglish," particularly academic English, or the English competency needed to understand classroom discussion:

      one year 4%
      two years 21%
      three years 38%
      four years 67%
Even early exit from a bilingual program is problematic. The same study by Ramirez, et al. showed that while student achievement in structured immersion, early-exit, and late-exit programs showed little initial differences in reading language and math, only the late-exit bilingual students approximated the scores of their native English speaking peers by the 6th grade. In contrast, students who had participated in structured immersion or early-exit bilingual programs leveled off far below the national norms. Crawford (1995:151) quotes Ramirez's summary of the implications of his study:

 "If your instructional objective is to help kids stay where they are--around the 25th percentile--then give them immersion or early exit and they'll keep their place in society. If your concern is to help kids catch up to the norming population, use more primary language. In the late-exit, they're growing faster in content areas and in English, too. It's really clear that you will not slow down a child's acquisition of English by providing large amounts of native-language acquisition."

 Recognition that one year is an inappropriate cut-off point is not limited to advocates of bilingual education. The heavily antibilingual education 'Little Hoover Commission Report' (1993) notes that "some experts believe that English can be academically comprehensible in as little as two years..., while others believe that six or more years of assistance is necessary" (Krashen, 1997a). The average consensus places the time span at 3-5 years, well beyond the Unz/Tuchman one year limit.

3. "Local schools shall be permitted to place in the same classroom English learners of different ages but whose degree of English proficiency is similar."

 Response: By placing children of different ages in the same classroom the possibility of adequately exposing these students to grade-level appropriate academic content areas is sacrificed. The math and science topics to be mastered by a six and twelve year old are clearly not comparable. So LEP students are not only being communicated with in a form of English and treatment of content areas modified for use with nonnative speaking children, they are also being lumped together by English nonproficiency irrespective of age or grade level. Under such conditions, age appropriate/grade-level appropriate academic content cannot be provided. The Ramirez (1991) et al. study emphasized that programs that stressed native-language development while introducing English gradually into the curriculum produced far better academic outcomes that those that pushed students into English too quickly.

 Crawford (1997) points out that bilingual education is based upon three simple premises: (1) Knowledge is more easily acquired if a teacher communicates with a student in a language that the student understands. (2) Concepts and academic content learned through a student's native language don't need to be relearned in English. (3) Language skills such as literacy, like concepts and academic content, need to be learned only once. There is no justification for putting acquisition of knowledge on hold while a student who already has perfectly good mastery of a first language learns a second. Cognitive development in general, like language, is subject to maturational constraints (Lenneberg 1967, Newport 1990). The earlier certain concepts and methods of problem solving are learned, the better equipped a child is to assimilate that knowledge and to use those concepts as stepping stones to further development. Delaying nonlanguage aspects of the educational curriculum of children until they master a secondanguage simply serves to place them at a greater disadvantage.

 4. "Local schools shall be encouraged to mix together in the same classroom English learners from different native-language groups but with the same degree of English fluency."

 Response: The combination of grouping students without regard to age or native language is particularly troubling. Such measures advocate the warehousing of immigrant children in academically unstructured and linguistically impoverished classrooms. Under the Unz/Tuchman model, the only rich, native-language English models a child will be exposed to are the classroom teachers, who unfortunately will be modifying their English to communicate with a range of child speakers of a number of mutually unintelligible native languages, most likely unfamiliar to the instructor.

 Under the Unz/Tuchman Initiative as currently worded, immigrant children will actually be segregated from native-English speaking peers during the most crucial aspects of their second language learning process. Research on language acquisition has repeatedly demonstrated that children do not in fact learn languages primarily from adults, but rather from slightly older peers (Labov, 1974; Ochs, 1988). This is evidenced by the fact that children generally exhibit the dialect of the area in which they are raised as opposed to that of their parents. By segregating immigrant children into classes with other nonnative speakers with equal English language nonproficiency, the Unz/Tuchman plan removes from the acquisition formula one of its most important components, exposure to native speaking peers. Contrary to its characterization in the Unz/Tuchman document, bilingual education is not nearly as segregationist.
 "Bilingual education does not mean isolating children in native-language classrooms with little or no exposure to English. These programs teach English from day one. Typically, English is first used to teach subjects that are less linguistically demanding such as art, music, and physical education.
 Gradually, English is integrated into subjects that are more dependent on language, from math to science to social studies "(Crawford 1997).

5. "Once English learners have acquired a good working knowledge of English, they shall be transferred to English language mainstream classrooms." According to Unz/Tuchman, "'English language mainstream classroom means a classroom in which the students are native English speakers or already have acquired reasonable fluency in English."

 Response: Linguistic research warns us that sheltered English immersion is a formula that impedes native-like acquisition of standard English. Furthermore, Ramirez et al.'s (1991) study reports that only 4% of students in structured English immersion programs are reclassified as sufficiently fluent after one year. Therefore, we must conclude that the Unz/Tuchman plan, contrary to its intended goals, will fail to produce a sizeable cohort of sufficiently fluent English language learners by their one year deadline. Yet, the entire Initiative hangs on the flawed assumption that after a single year, students in sheltered English classrooms will attain sufficient fluency to enter into mainstream classrooms with native-English speaking peers. Instead, all indications are that a large majority (as much as 96%) of these immigrant children will not achieve fluency within one year. Under the Unz/Tuchman Initiative, there exists no coherent next step.

 Three possibilities present themselves: (1) The great majority of these immigrant children will be shunted back into inappropriate age and language-matched sheltered English classrooms that have no plan for furthering their academic and language development. (2) Criteria for entry into mainstream classrooms could possibly be relaxed such that these ill-equipped students are allowed to enter and in so doing would overwhelm already overburdened classroom teachers as well as lower the general achievement possible within the class. (3) These students, doomed to failure by what linguistic and educational research indicates to be inadequate preparation, will be inappropriately classified as having "special physical, emotional, psychological, or educational needs [such] that an alternate course of educational study would be better suited to the child's overall educational development," i.e. shunting them (and the financial burden for their education) into a stigmatized, special education track that may or may n offer bilingual education as an option. The third alternative was opted for and found to be illegal in the case of children who were speakers of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Labov, 1982; Smitherman, 1981).

 6. "As much as possible, current supplemental funding for English learners shall be maintained,..." However, these funds will be diverted "for the purpose of providing additional funding for free or subsidized programs of adult English language instruction to parents or other members of the community who pledge to provide personal English language tutoring to California school children with limited proficiency."

 Response: While couched in terms of maintaining current levels of supplemental funding, this provision of the Unz/Tuchman Initiative would, in fact, strip $500,000,000 from the general educational fund that currently supports professional bilingual education programs and divert it to poorly conceived adult literacy programs designed to put English tutoring into the hands of untrained persons who are themselves still struggling with English.


 In plain English, the Unz/Tuchman Initiative as currently worded proposes to (1) dismantle currently existing and effective programs of bilingual education, whose curriculum is based upon proven methods and solid research findings and which are supported by both United States and California laws as well as by the Supreme Court's Lau v. Nichols' ruling, in favor of (2) a one year, simplified English-Only program that (3) segregates "English learners" from their native English-speaking peers and (4) warehouses them in classrooms mixed with respect to both age and first language background. This warehousing method virtually assures ineffective teaching and unsuccessful language acquisition by precluding most second language teaching methods that take into account the learner's first language base as well as any consistent use of age-related materials or content matter. While at times mixed native language classrooms may be unavoidable, they are not ideal.
 The Unz/Tuchman Initiative would create a macaronic environment (or language jumble) where the only native-English model will be the teacher(s) who are extemporaneously simplifying their "structured/sheltered English" to communicate with non-English speakers of a variety of mutually unintelligible native languages, producing "foreigner talk" as opposed to a consistent native-English language model. These are not the conditions under which successful second language acquisition of English is normally achieved. This warehousing of limited proficiency English learners will potentially be supplemented by the diversion of funds currently supporting viable, professionally-staffed bilingual programs to (6) community-based tutoring programs where parents and other community members who pledge to tutor children with limited English proficiency will be taught to teach English. The few successful children (those determined to have acquired "reasonable fluency in English") would then be (5) placed in mainstream classrooms. Of course, having lost a year of academic content, these successful students would inevitably begin at least a year behind their peers or at a serious academic disadvantage in an age-matched classroom. Oddly enough, the wording of this initiative also indicates that, without significant parental intervention, even those nonnative, but proficient English learners will be obligated to spend a year being set back in these segregated, sheltered/structured English classrooms. Thus the Unz/Tuchman Initiative, as currently worded, places all immigrant children at risk of a minimum one year academic set-back and potentially a spiralling downhill deprivation from age-appropriate academic content for as long as they remain inadequately prepared for entry intmainstream classrooms.
 Furthermore, the Unz/Tuchman "English Language for Immigrant Children" Initiative as currently worded is blatantly discriminatory. Under the current wording of the Unz/Tuchman Initiative, nonimmigrant children scoring at or above the state average for their grade level are automatically mainstreamed, whereas an immigrant child with comparable test scores would be automatically excluded from a mainstream English classroom and placed in a sheltered English classroom. Under the Unz/Tuchman plan, the onus is placed entirely on the immigrant parents of a child who is actually qualified to be palced directly in a mainstream English classroom as opposed to a sheltered English classroom to know and assert their rights in these matters. It is likely that many of these immigrant parents will themselves be LEP speakers and will be hindered from setting up meetings with school officials and filing waivers with regard to either mainstream classrooms or bilingual education classrooms. Under current California law, alparents have the absolute right to withdraw their children from any English language development program. By substituting stricter waiver procedures, the Unz/Tuchman Initiative would remove this right.
 But what becomes of the immigrant children who have not achieved English proficiency in a year? It is not clear. It seems that without parental intervention, children under 10 will remain in these segregated, warehousing, structured English classrooms designed only for one year training--in violation of the original intent of the Initiative. The only alternative option open to the parents is to have their child classified for special education, which is not an acceptable option (Labov, 1982; Smitherman, 1981). Such an alternative not only stigmatizes these immigrant children, but shifts the burden of their education to the already limited budget lines dedicated to programs currently serving the needs of children with actual learning disabilities. This inappropriately turns bilingual education, which actually offers children a cognitive advantage (Grosjean 1982; Lambert & Tucker 1972; Cummins 1977, 1978, 1984, 1988), into special education, which does not.
 For those children actually waived out of this program, the Unz/Tuchman Initiative stipulates that these "children may be transferred to classes where they are taught English and other subjects through bilingual education techniques or other generally recognized educational methodologies permitted by law. Individual schools in which 20 students or more of a given grade level receive a waiver shall be required to offer such a class; otherwise, they must allow the students to transfer to a public school in which such a class is offered." This policy promises to encourage the extreme rationing of such waivers and virtually assures schools in areas with limited diversity the possibility of shipping immigrant children out, at the immigrant family's inconvenience, to more accepting school districts. Segregation from rather that integration into the native-English speaking educational mainstream seems the most likely outcome of the Unz/Tuchman plan.
 While the Linguistic Society of America shares the intent of the Unz/Tuchman Initiative, to give access to spoken and written English to all of California's children, the methods the Initiative suggests are linguistically ill-informed, educationally unsound, and would be illegal if ever put into practice. California's children deserve better.


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 Prepared by the Committee on Social and Political Concerns of the Linguistic Society of America

updated June 10, 1998