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California Referendum Mandates 'English-only

California          Referendum Mandates 'English-only

According to the National Association of Bilingual Education, the Unz initiative would:

  • Impose an inflexible, state-mandated curriculum for all LEP children, regardless of the wishes of parents, the recommendations of educators, or the decisions of local school boards;
  • Require an English-only methodology that's politically fashionable but has no support in scientific research and no quality controls to ensure that students are learning;
  • Create chaos in regular classrooms by "mainstreaming" LEP students after just one year of English instruction;
  • Suggest to schools that during the year-long "sheltered English immersion programs" they group LEP students together on the basis of a student's English proficiency, regardless of the student's age;
  • Deny parental choice by making it practically impossible to obtain a waiver of the English-only rule;
  • Intimidate teachers and administrators with threats of lawsuits and financial penalties for using any language but English to assist a child;
  • Straightjacket the California legislature by requiring a two-thirds vote to amend the English-only mandate, making this radical experiment virtually impossible to modify or repeal.

Unz alleges that California's current system for educating LEP students is "centered on use of native language instruction, with English being introduced to children only in later grades." The reality is that most LEP students in the state are educated in English-only instructional programs. Fewer than one in three LEP students (32.49%) are in classes where native-language instruction is provided, according to the California Department of Education.

As the National Assocation of Bilingual Education notes in a recent analysis, "If the current system is failing, it's likely because there's too much -- not too little -- English-only instruction."

Further, the Unz initiative ignores that bilingual education has several goals: the development of English language proficiency; the maintenance of one's native language and the acquisition of true bilingualism; and the development of academic skills while English is learned. Research has shown that students with a strong academic background in their first language are more likely to develop high levels of English proficiency than those who do not have such an advantage.

"Yet no one can guarantee that English-only immersion will work," according to James Crawford, a frequent writer on bilingual issues and the former Washington editor for Education Week. "No scientific evidence supports it. No reputable researcher has endorsed it. And certainly no educational program has lived up to Unz's advertising -- that immersion can make children 'fluent in English ... within months to a year.'"

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