US News and World Report printed an edited version of my response to
Mortimer Zuckerman's, Editor in Chief of US News, editorial supporting
Prop. 227 in their June 22, 1998 issue.  Unfortunatley the edited
version minimized the focus and strength of my response.

Below is the entire response I sent, followed by the US NEWS minimized
version.

BILINGUAL INITIATIVE FAILS THE TEST

It is a shame that a man of Mortimer Zukerman's reputation should take
such a powerful position in favor of the California anti-bilingual
education initiative in his May 25th editorial "The facts of life in
America" without having read it, or at least taken the time to analyze
the narrative of the initiative that he suggests Californians support.

Mr. Zuckermans opening remarks suggest bilingual education has been the
cause of Latino students educational plight. Relatively few Hispanic
students are in bilingual education - about 15 percent in California.  A
study published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences in 1986
revealed that students in bilingual education programs dropped out less
than those in all English programs.  Bilingual education, it appears,
is  not the cause of dropping out - it is the cure.

Proposition 227 asks voters to establish one strategy: intensive
``sheltered English immersion'' for students with minimal English. It
provides that these students will spend one school year, 180 days, in
such classes and then be moved into mainstream instruction.''

Parents could seek waivers to move their children into bilingual classes
after 30 days of English immersion. But the initiative itself conditions
waivers for children under 10 on ``special needs,'' a provision that
makes them extremely difficult to obtain requiring a chain of numerous
policy bodies from the local school administration to the school
district offices approval.

California has fallen into a bad habit of trying to legislate the
details of education, insurance, environmental safety and other complex,
technical subjects through the initiative process. Too often, such
initiatives are approved on the basis of simplistic slogans,
establishing laws that are difficult to interpret and apply. Sound bites
rather than research inform decisions as they have done in Mr.
Zuckerman's piece.

Nobody knows one single best way to teach. Statewide, most students with
limited English are taught in mainstream English-only classes with a few
hours a week of special English or native-language instruction to keep
them afloat. Very similar to the program the initiative calls for.  The
California State Department of Education reports that of the 1.4 million
children identified as needing special programs based on their English
proficiency fewer than a third have ever been in a bilingual classroom.
In other words the authors of the initiative are trying to sell the
public a program that is already failing them.

It's clear that bilingual education can work well with qualified
bilingual teachers, committed parents, a strong academic curriculum and
consistent attention to student achievement.  An example exists in the
Calexico School District along the Mexican border. In those schools,
predominantly Spanish-speaking and poor children become proficient in
English by the fourth grade, 90% finish high school and half go on to
college. There are fine results in many bilingual programs on individual
campuses.

Another model has proved very popular with parents: Dual or two-way
bilingual immersion schools where native English speaking and limited
English students learn each other's languages together. The academic
success of these programs has been documented by recognized researchers
showing remarkable results.

Unfortunately, that's not the norm. Lacking enough qualified bilingual
teachers to do it well, many so-called programs do it poorly, often
relying on bilingual aides with little education and training, sometimes
offering a watered-down curriculum. This is not bilingual education. Yet
these programs receives the blame under the bilingual education label.

Proposition 227 won't wipe out only ineffective bilingual programs. It
also will make it difficult or impossible to offer high-quality
bilingual education programs as discussed above.

My biggest grievance with Mr. Zuckerman's editorial is his bandwagoning
statement:
"The beauty of the California initiative is that it leapfrogs over all
the special interests and political calculations and gives choice to the
people. That is democracy in any language." Clearly Mr. Zuckerman's
definition of democracy and my own are not synonymous.

The initiative will deny locally elected school boards the right to
decide what makes sense for local students, and limit parents' right to
decide what makes sense for their kids. How can this be interpreted as
democracy in any sense of the word?  It appears to subscribe more to the
axiom of "the ends justifies the means" which does not appear in any
"democratic" manifesto that I am aware of.

It is understandable the frustration and tactics that's made Proposition
227 so popular. But it's not a good law,it's not a good way to change
the law and it certainly is not sound pedagogy. Now that California
finally has local control, (The California State Board of Education has
recently given school districts the ability to choose what is best for
their own constituency), why adopt another untested another
one-size-fits-all teaching method?

The status quo in many California schools is certainly not acceptable.
But replacing bad programs with a plan to destroy good programs makes no
sense. Proposition 227 will help voters vent their frustrations but will
not help California's 1.4 million bilingual students enter the
mainstream any quicker. As we do not throw out math and science programs
for failing, we certainly should not throw out bilingual programs
either. Bilingual education can work and should be given the opportunity
to do so.

US NEWS VERSION

Proposition 227 won't wipe out only ineffective bilingual programs. It
also will make it difficult or impossible to offer high-quality
bilingual education programs. The initiative will deny locally elected
school boards the right to decide what makes sense for local students,
and limit parents' right to decide what makes sense for their kids. The
status quo in many California schools is certainly not acceptable. But
replacing bad programs with a plan to destroy good programs makes no
sense. Proposition 227 will help voters vent their frustrations but will
not help California's 1.4 million bilingual students enter the
mainstream any quicker. As we do not throw out math and science programs
for failing, we certainly should not throw out bilingual programs
either. Bilingual education can work and should be given the opportunity
to do so.
 

Michael Genzuk, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Division of Learning and Instruction

Director
Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Research

University of Southern California
School of Education
e-mail: genzuk@rcf.usc.edu

Visit our Web Site
Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Research
 http://www.usc.edu/dept/education/CMMR.