Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Next Big Push from California: No Bilingual Ed in New Test of Immigrant Rights, a 1998 Vote Would Nix Classes in Native Tongues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Next Big Push from California: No Bilingual Ed in New Test of Immigrant Rights, a 1998 Vote Would Nix Classes in Native Tongues

Article excerpt

California - home to half the nation's immigrants - has begun what promises to be another soul-searching debate over what constitutes just treatment of America's minorities and its newest residents.

In 1994, Prop. 187 denied education and medical attention to illegal aliens, and last year's Prop. 209 took aim at affirmative action. The target this time: bilingual education in a state with half of all children in the US considered not proficient in English.

"After 25 years of trying, California has proved that bilingual education doesn't work," says Ron Unz, a multimillionaire software entrepreneur in Palo Alto who is underwriting the measure for next year's ballot. Citing a 95 percent failure rate in the state's current program, and polls showing a great majority of minorities prefer English immersion, Mr. Unz is readying his initiative (entitled "English for the Children") for next year's ballot. The measure would virtually abolish bilingual instruction for 1.3 million public school students who are considered "limited English proficient." Currently these students are put in classrooms where at least part of the teaching happens in their native tongue. The new plan would mandate that all California public-school children be taught in English, and that parents who still want bilingual classes sign a special request. "We hope this sounds the death knell for bilingual programs in other states as well," adds Unz, who got a third of the vote against Gov. Pete Wilson before losing the 1996 GOP primary. After meeting with Latino parents who were protesting bilingual policies that kept their children in Spanish-language classes, Unz noticed that nearly a dozen bilingual reform measures had stalled in the state legislature. He decided a citizen initiative was the only way to break the logjam. He argues that bilingual classes cost too much and that children come out of them not knowing English and therefore not being able to function in society. The issue is heating up nationwide. Because of tight education budgets, and because reformers elsewhere have taken aim at bilingual programs, California's plan is likely to attract great attention. …

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