Californian Expands Fight on Bilingual Education

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups

Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and education reformer who led successful initiatives to end bilingual education in California and Arizona, is putting his energy, support and growing political clout behind two new ballot drives in Massachusetts and Colorado.

In June, Mr. Unz, who heads the Palo Alto, Calif.-based English for the Children organization, helped kick off a ballot petition drive in Colorado geared at ending bilingual education programs in the state in 2002.

On Tuesday, Mr. Unz was in Boston, where he joined supporters who have pledged to change Massachusetts' 30-year-old bilingual education law by placing the issue before voters next year.

Mr. Unz, who has been a vocal critic of the failure of bilingual education to help immigrant children learn English, said little has changed in Massachusetts, despite large amounts of money spent on bilingual programs there. "The parents and voters of Massachusetts should have the right to decide if the children of Massachusetts are taught English or whether they are not taught English," Mr. Unz said.

"An effort that dismantled the bilingual program here, a large East Coast state, which is a major media and intellectual center for the whole United States, could have huge national significance," Mr. Unz told the Boston Globe.

Both proposals are modeled on the successful measures that led voters - by a wide margin - to reject bilingual education in California in June 1998 and in Arizona in November 2000.

In Colorado, the ballot initiative calls for a constitutional amendment that requires students who are not fluent in English to enter transitional "sheltered English immersion" classes to help them learn the language as quickly as they can. Opponents of bilingual education must get 80,600 signatures to put the measure before voters. However, proponents of bilingual education have pledged a hard fight against opponents of the program.

Rita Montero, statewide chairman of the English for the Children of Colorado campaign, worked to defeat an English-only initiative in Colorado in 1988. Since then she has had a change of heart, noting that after three years as a member of the Denver Board of Education, reform of bilingual education in her state has been a dismal failure.

"We've already lost too many generations of Latino students maintaining that disastrous system," she said, calling the ballot drive the "only hope" of children for a solid education. …