Study confirms success of English immersion
Daily Breeze (Torrance CA)
October 19, 2006

By Tom Elias
As California voters consider the eight initiatives
and 13 total ballot propositions before them this
fall, many wonder whether the promises offered by any
of them would be kept.
They've watched as the state delayed issuing billions
of dollars worth of bonds they approved for school
construction, parks and other projects. They look on
helplessly as lax enforcement thwarts the goals of
measures like the 1986 Clean Water Act, passed as
Proposition 65, and they spent more than 18 years
wondering when car insurance rates would finally be
governed by something other than ZIP codes. Insurance
Commissioner John Garamendi finally acted on that one
last summer, as required by the 1988 Proposition 103.
But new evidence offered by the federal Census Bureau
indicates that at least one past initiative is not
only working, but it's working better and better as
time goes by.
Data released in late summer from the bureau's 2005
American Community Survey showed that in California
households where Spanish is the primary language, more
children than ever ages 5 to 17 also speak fluent
The census found that the number of English-speaking
children of Spanish-speaking parents rose from 60
percent in 2000 to 71 percent in 2005, an average of 2
percent per year. This was true even though the number
of Spanish-speaking households rose by about 200,000
during the same time period due to the pace of
Something obviously is causing children of Latino
immigrants to learn English faster and better than
before. And only one public policy affecting language
has changed during the past 20 years: the 1998
Proposition 227, which eliminated most bilingual
education programs in public schools, replacing them
with English immersion.
Plainly, English immersion is working better than
bilingualism, in which students are taught primarily
in their native language until teachers say they can
speak English well enough to switch to regular
classes. No, it can't be proved that English immersion
is the reason for this very significant progress. But
there are no other evident reasons.
"This certainly is encouraging," says Ron Unz, the
Palo Alto software entrepreneur who bankrolled and led
the Proposition 227 campaign.
Unz speculates that massive media coverage of his
campaign at the time it was on the ballot, plus news
coverage of the way 227 was carried out, may have
contributed almost as much as the classroom changes.
"All the coverage stressed the importance of learning
English, even if there were debates about the best way
to do it," he said. "That helped alter behavior
patterns. A lot of families, for instance, switched
from watching all Spanish-language television programs
to at least some English ones, which would help a
great deal in boosting English proficiency among
The new numbers on children are especially impressive
when compared with the regression the census found
among older immigrants. Where about 48 percent of
senior citizens in Spanish-speaking households also
spoke fluent English in 1990, the number last year had
dropped to 35 percent.
But given those numbers, why, when the census found 71
percent of Spanish-speaking children also to be
proficient in English, progress reported by public
schools has not been nearly as good? Some speculate
the reason is that keeping students classified as
English learners after they've become proficient
allows schools to keep receiving extra state and
federal money. Another possible reason is that new
immigrant children are arriving in numbers sufficient
to keep the English-learner numbers constant even as
larger numbers learn the language well.
So voters should feel sure about one thing: For
whatever reason, at least one proposition they passed
is steadily achieving its desired effect.
Tom Elias is the author of The Burzynski Breakthrough:
The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the
Government's Campaign to Squelch It, now available in
an updated third edition. His e-mail address is