Re: An Interview with Heather Mc Donald: What ’s G oing on In California?
Michael F. Shaughnessy Sr. Columnist | An Interview with Heather Mc Donald: What’s Going on In California?
1.14.10 - Michael F. Shaughnessy - Though bilingual education advocates point to that 30% figure to argue that bilingual education was never a significant part of the educational landscape, that assertion ignores the fact that bilingual education was always concentrated in the elementary schools
An Interview with Heather Mc Donald: What’s Going on In California?
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
1) First of all, what is currently happening in the State of California?
By official tallies, only four percent of California’s English Learners are currently enrolled in bilingual education, compared to 30% before Proposition 227 was passed in 1998. Though bilingual education advocates point to that 30% figure to argue that bilingual education was never a significant part of the educational landscape, that assertion ignores the fact that bilingual education was always concentrated in the elementary schools and was rare in high school. Before Prop. 227, most Spanish-speaking elementary school students were in bilingual programs; today, few are.
2) Could you provide a brief history of Prop 227?
Proposition 227 arose out of grass-roots frustration with the failure of California’s Hispanic English Learners to adequately master English under the dominant bilingual ed. regime. In 1996, a group of garment worker parents in downtown Los Angeles asked that their children be taken out of bilingual education and put in English immersion classes, since their children were not learning English. Administrators of the 9th Street Elementary School ignored the parents’ requests, prompting a parent-student boycott of the school. Their boycott caught the attention of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, who bankrolled a ballot initiative that would severely limit bilingual education in California. The entire political establishment in California opposed Prop. 227, as did the teachers union. Though the initiative’s backers were outspent 5 to 1, the measure passed 61 to 39%. After it became law, many school districts tried to evade its mandates, and continued surrounding students with Spanish for a considerable part of the day, or urged parents to request that their children be placed in bilingual education, as the proposition allowed in narrow circumstances. But the school districts that obeyed the letter of the law and eliminated their bilingual programs outperformed the districts that held on to bilingual education, and now many districts are moving towards English immersion on their own accord in order to raise student test scores.
3) There still seems to be an “ achievement gap “ between races and cultures in California, as well as in other parts of the U.S. Is there any way to attribute this gap to instruction, or perhaps poverty, or perhaps some other factor?
The achievement gap is exacerbated by the progressive pedagogy that dominates education schools. Progressive education disparages memorization, drilling, repetition, and teacher-directed instruction in favor of student-centered learning. Poor black and Hispanic students most need rigorous academic structure and discipline in their classrooms, because they are rarely being taught to read and count at home. Yet they are denied such academic support because of a misguided disdain for top-down teaching. Different attitudes towards education found among different cultures also contributes to the achievement gap.
4) Is there any data or evidence or empirical support for the premise that teaching students English affects their self-esteem, self-concept or self-worth?
There is no evidence that English Learners suffer from low self-esteem if taught in English, though that was one of the primary arguments for bilingual education starting in the 1960s.
5) IF ANY student wants to preserve their culture, what is our society’s responsibility ( if any ) to assist in this process?
Society has no responsibility for preserving a students’ home culture; that is the role of his or her parents.
6) What are the teachers unions saying about this entire issue?
The teachers unions have stopped fighting English immersion aggressively in California. Efforts to preserve the bilingual ed. regime are more subtle now, focused on testing reading and math skills in Spanish rather than English and on promoting a new version of bilingual ed. known as “dual language” learning.
7) Everyone seems concerned about test scores, and if test scores are the ultimate factor, what do the test scores seem to say?
Test scores of English Learners have risen since Prop. 227. In 2003, 10% of English Learners scored in the two top categories on California’s reading and writing test; in 2009, 20% did. On the English proficiency test given to nonnative speakers, the fraction of English learners scoring in the top two categories increased from 25 percent in 2001, when the test was first administered, to 39 percent this year. This rise in test scores is particularly notable, given that school districts can no longer keep their lowest-performing English learners out of the testing process. In 1998, 29 percent of school districts submitted under half of their English learners to the statewide reading and writing test; today, close to 100 percent of the state’s English learners participate.
8) If someone wanted to read your report in it’s entirety, where would your report on this topic be found?
My article on California’s bilingual ed. ban can be read at http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_4_bilingual-education.html.
Michael Genzuk, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Research
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
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Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Research