Vote to Eliminate Bilingual Education in California Resonates Nationwide Golden State's Decision May Push States to Reform Their Programs

Article excerpt

For the past year, states nationwide have been closely watching California's battle over bilingual education, hoping to catch a glimpse of how Americans view the controversial programs.

On Tuesday, the message delivered by California voters could hardly have been more clear. Their decision to virtually eliminate bilingual education is a signal to states across the US: reform or die.

"People in all these states are getting a wake-up call that if things aren't fixed in a hurry, they risk losing the whole ball of wax," says Tim Schultz, director of US English, a citizen action group dedicated to preserving English usage in all 50 states. The proposition, which passed by a 61-to-39 percent margin, will undoubtedly face court challenges that could tie up implementation of the law for some time. But experts say the vote is significant because about two-thirds of the state's Latino voters supported the proposition. "This is the first time that those most affected by bilingual programs have spoken so clearly that they don't want them," says Jorge Amselle, spokesman for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington think tank that examines issues of race and public policy. Furthermore, he says that Latino activists who challenge the new law will be in the "awkward position" of going against the majority of their communities. "This has undermined the argument that immigrants don't want to assimilate," he adds. Inside California, the new law will abolish bilingual education - the use of two languages for instruction - for the state's 1.3 million limited-English students, mandating that all public-school children be taught in English. After a one-year English immersion program, these students will be asked to study all subjects in English. Parents who still want bilingual education can still sign a special request, but conditions for approval will be limited. The right answer? For opponents of the initiative, called Proposition 227, the end of almost all the state's bilingual-education programs is a simplistic answer to a complex issue. …