California Has Another Proposition: This One Would Prohibit Bilingual Education

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California Has Another Proposition: This One Would Prohibit Bilingual Education

The next California proposition that may alter the national political landscape is the proposed Ron Unz Initiative, which seeks to ban all bilingual instruction in California public schools.

The Unz initiative calls for placing students with limited English into English-only immersion classes for one year and thereafter mainstreaming them into regular classrooms. It additionally calls for holding teachers and administrators legally liable if they do not implement the terms of the initiative.

Such an initiative, if it were to pass, says Josefina Tinajero, the president of the National Association for Bilingual Educators, has the potential to eliminate bilingual education nationally.

"It ['s anti-bilingual mood] can be very contagious," says Tinajero, who is also a professor and assistant dean at the University of Texas-El Paso. "Unz has said that if they win in California, they will take their initiative to Washington, D.C."

Opponents of the initiative see this as the third installment of an anti-Latino and anti-people of color campaign that has originated in California and has spread nationwide. The other initiatives were Proposition 187 in 1994, which called for a series of anti-immigrant measures, and Proposition 209 in 1996, which dismantled the state's affirmative action programs.

Bilingual education is threatened "because the proponents spread lies and because most people don't know the research," says Tinajero, who notes that Unz is not an educator.

A millionaire entrepreneur who lost the Republican nomination for governor to Pete Wilson in 1996, Unz claims to have garnered 200,000 more signatures than the 600,000 needed to place the initiative on the June 1998 primary ballot. Although the proposition has not officially qualified for consideration by the voters, that qualification is expected by the end of January.

Barbara Flores, a professor in the school of education at California State University-San Bernardino, maintains that virtually all the major research shows that bilingual education works and that immersion -which she refers to as "sink or swim" -- does not. She cited two studies, the 1984 Ramirez study and the 1997 Collier and Thomas study, as proof of her contention.

Flores, who teaches bilingual educators, recently said that the initiative leaves "defenseless children denied [of] equal opportunity under the guise of [an] `English-only' initiative. …