Friday, March 07, 2014


Issue could surface on 2016 state ballot

By Katie Ash - Education Week

Education WeekMarch 4, 2014  ::  A new bill that seeks to repeal California's long-running restrictions on bilingual education may be only the most recent signal of a shifting political climate around English-language-learner instruction in that state.

California drew national attention in 1998 when voters passed Proposition 227, a ballot measure that severely restricted the availability of bilingual education for students in favor of English-only immersion programs for English-learners. The new bill, introduced Feb. 20 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, seeks to put the issue to voters on the 2016 ballot.

Educators and policy experts in California say the bill's introduction comes as changing demographics within the state, new and robust research on the subject, and shifting political dynamics have begun to transform parents' and educators' views on multilingual education.

"This is not the same debate as it was 15 years ago," said Robert Linquanti, the project director for English-learner evaluation and accountability support at WestEd, a San Francisco-based research group.

"Bilingual education generally has always been controversial in the United States because of its association with national identity, multiculturalism, and immigration," Mr. Linquanti said.

But in recent years, acceptance of multilingualism has grown, especially in California, which educates about 1.35 million English-learners, argued Mr. Linquanti.

For instance, in 2011, state legislators approved a seal of biliteracy that high school graduates can earn for their diplomas to indicate fluency in two or more languages. Lawmakers in New York, Illinois, and Texas have followed suit, and as of press time, a similar bill in New Mexico awaited Gov. Susana Martinez's signature.

In addition, said Patricia Gándara, a research professor of education in the graduate school of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a co-director of the Civil Rights Project there, "we've seen a tremendous growth in the numbers of dual-language programs popping up in California, which now has more than any other state."

Different Models

Dual-language programs match English-speaking students with a cohort of English-learners and teach the curriculum in both languages to help all the students achieve bilingualism and biliteracy.

Such programs have been on the rise nationwide for the past decade, and now number around 30,000, even after transitional-bilingual-education programs diminished after pro-English-immersion ballot initiatives in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts.

Transitional-bilingual-education programs provide instruction in English-learners' native languages, with separate English classes, before transitioning students into all-English instruction.

Ms. Gándara believes that now a move to repeal Proposition 227 could gain traction.

"Californians have become comfortable with the fact that we have a very multicultural, multilingual population," she said.

Sen. Lara, the Democratic sponsor of the repeal bill, agreed.

"Given the diversity of California, the vast body of research on the benefits of language-immersion programs, and the growing popularity of these schools, clearly public perception has changed on the value of multilingual education programs," he said in an email to Education Week.

The move could have positive economic impacts, he wrote: "California has the largest economy in the country, and in order to keep climbing, its workforce needs to be fully prepared with the appropriate skill sets."

In a recent survey of business leaders, primarily in California, that Ms. Gándara helped conduct, respondents across sectors valued bilingual employees and candidates more than monolingual ones—even for upper-management jobs, which has historically not been the case.

Opposing View

On the other hand, Ron K. Unz, the Silicon Valley businessman who largely financed and campaigned for the passage of Proposition 227, said he believes now more than ever that the law should remain on the books.

He points to a rise in state standardized-test scores in reading and math from 1998 to 2002 for English-language learners statewide as evidence that Proposition 227 had a positive impact on students. But researchers say analyses on the impact of Proposition 227 are more nuanced, and the data show the law had little or no effect on student outcomes.

"As far as student outcomes, they have not been better at all in the state of California by any measure—standardized-test scores, dropout rates, high-school-completion rates," said Grace McField, a researcher from California State University in San Marcos. Her book The Miseducation of English Learners, released this year, examines the impact of Proposition 227.

In fact, research has found that more important than the language in which instruction is delivered is the quality of the language instruction, said Mr. Linquanti, of WestEd.

"The answer [about which language-instruction method is better] really depends on what the preferences of the community are, what the instructional capabilities are of the teachers, and what support there is for it," he said.

Ms. Gándara, from UCLA, who would like to see Mr. Lara's bill pass the Democrat-controlled legislature, said "it's a real mistake for the general public to ban certain kinds of educational practices for all kids."

"Do I think [Proposition 227] should be repealed?" she asked. "It never should have been voted on in the first place."

Senator Lara Announces Bill Supporting Multilingual Education

press Release | Senator Ricardo Lara

Contact: Jesse Melgar/

February 20, 2014  SACRAMENTO — Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach/Huntington Park) announced legislation today that would enable California’s public schools to provide multilingual instruction, granting more students access to valuable 21st Century language skills and giving parents more choice over their children’s education.

If passed, SB 1174, the Multilingual Education for a 21st Century Economy Act, would place an initiative before voters on the November 2016 ballot to repeal prohibitions to multilingual instruction passed through Proposition 227.

“In an increasingly interconnected global economy, we have to prepare our students for a future in which their success depends not only on an ability to understand diverse perspectives and cultures, but also on an ability to communicate in different languages,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “Employers seek multilingual employees and all students – English and non-English learners alike – deserve access to this invaluable skill.”

In 1998 voters passed an initiative that required all instruction in public schools to be conducted in English. After its passage, the number of elementary age students enrolled in some form of multilingual program sharply declined from 39 percent in 1997 to 13 percent in 2001.

“It is critical for California to enable public schools to educate their students mulitlingually. Becoming biliterate will not only give students a valuable 21st Century skill, but also celebrate diversity and multiculturalism and recognize that languages are an asset to our nation and society,” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together, a coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates and civil rights groups.

Multiple studies have shown that supporting children’s home language in early years is critical to later academic achievement, and results in better outcomes than English-only approaches. Additionally, researchers have also found that it is not just English learners who benefit from instruction in two languages – children from English-only homes enrolled in such programs had a distinct reading advantage over their peers in English-only programs.

“Extensive research has shown that students who build strong biliteracy skills (in English and one or more other languages) have higher academic success, a foundation for increased salary earnings, and stronger cognitive skills as they grow older,” said Jan Gustafson-Corea CEO of the California Association for Bilingual Education. “CABE supports Senator Lara’s bill as one that will promote educational equity and excellence in our schools and create a pathway for success for all students in the 21st century.”

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” said Lara.

Currently, public schools are not able to teach in any language besides English, unless parents have gone through a waiver process that most are not aware of. In California, most students will not receive any instruction in a foreign language until they are in high school. Research has shown that language acquisition is much more successful when it begins at an early age and is accompanied by many cognitive benefits.

Senator Ricardo Lara was elected in 2012 to represent the 33rd Senate District, which includes the cities and communities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lakewood, Long Beach, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, Signal Hill, South Gate, South Los Angeles, Vernon, and Walnut Park.


Senate Bill
No. 1174

Introduced by Senator Lara

February 20, 2014

An act to repeal Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 300) of Part 1 of Division 1 of Title 1 of the Education Code, relating to English language education.


SB 1174, as introduced, Lara. English language education.

(1) Existing law, as added by Proposition 227, a measure approved by the voters at the June 2, 1998, statewide primary election, requires, among other things, that all children in California public schools be taught English by being taught in English. Proposition 227 specifies that English learner pupils, as defined, be educated through sheltered English immersion, as defined, during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one year. Proposition 227 further provides that its requirements relating to sheltered English immersion instruction may be waived with the prior written consent of a pupil’s parent or legal guardian, as specified. Proposition 227 also encourages family members and others to provide personal English language tutoring to English learner pupils.

Proposition 227 also specifies that a pupil’s parent or legal guardian has standing to sue for enforcement of its provisions and, if successful, to receive normal and customary attorney’s fees and actual damages, but not punitive or consequential damages. Proposition 227 further provides that school board members, other elected officials, and public school teachers or administrators who wilfully and repeatedly refuse to implement its provisions may be held personally liable for fees and actual damages by a pupil’s parent or legal guardian.

This bill would repeal Proposition 227.

(2) The California Constitution authorizes the Legislature to amend or repeal an initiative statute by another statute that becomes effective when approved by the electors.

This bill would provide that it would become effective only upon approval of the voters, and would require the Secretary of State to submit this measure to the voters for approval at a statewide election.

Digest Key

Vote: MAJORITY Appropriation: NO Fiscal Committee: YES Local Program: NO

Bill Text

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:

  Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 300) of Part 1 of Division 1 of Title 1 of the Education Code is repealed.
SEC. 2.
  Section 1 of this act repeals Proposition 227, an initiative statute that was approved by the voters at the June 2, 1998, statewide primary election, and shall become effective only when submitted to, and approved by, the voters. The Secretary of State shall submit Section 1 of this act for approval by the voters at a statewide election in accordance with Section 9040 of the Elections Code.

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