Replacing bilingual education |

Replacing bilingual education

Veronica Whitney

The American Institutes for Research for the California Department of Education, which conducted a study of the program’s first four years (1998-2001), reports there have been gains for English learners. However, those students benefiting from the program also continue to score substantially lower than their native English speaking peers, says the study .

Proposition 227 replaced bilingual education in California with a statewide system with one year of mostly English-immersion instruction. Amendment 31, a similar proposal in Colorado and a change to the state Constitution, would dismantle bilingual and dual-immersion programs, if passed in the Nov. elections.

“I’d say some kids benefited from it (Proposition 227), and others didn’t,” says Lauri Burnham, manager of committee follow up unit with the California Department of Education. “Standardized test scores went up for both learners, native and non-native English speakers. The gap between the two groups of students hasn’t narrowed, though.”

The interesting point, Burnham says, is that scores went up in districts that abandoned bilingual education, as well as districts that didn’t have any bilingual program before Proposition 227. Scores also went up in districts which kept bilingual programs through parent waivers.

This information contradicts what Rita Montero, the Colorado resident sponsor of Amendment 31, says to support Amendment 31. Montero, a former member of the Board of Education for the Denver Public School District, says since the initiative’s inception in California, test scores increased more than two times compared to those children who stayed in bilingual programs.

“Sheltering English immersion programs is the best way to teach English,” says Montero.

But, according to Burnham, a combination of different things had to do with an increase in test scores in California after Proposition 227.

The proposition occured in the context of other changes implemented in the state, including class size reduction, a high-stakes testing and accountability system that rewards shools for test score improvement and threatens punishment for continued failure, reading improvement programs and the state’s new English Language Development standards. “All these changes going on at the same time make it difficult to isolate the impact of Proposition 227,” Burnham says.

Since the passage of Proposition 227, test scores for third-graders on the reading portion of the SAT-9 (Stanford Achievement Test) between 1998 and 2001 improved for both native English speakers as well as English learners, reports the California Department of Education study. However, there is a persistent performance gap that closed modestly, the study reports. Prior to Proposition 227, the reading achievement gap for third- graders was 40 points; by 2002 it had narrowed to 38 points. Similar patterns were observed for other grades and subjects.

Also, SAT-9 results for English reading, grades two through six, show a nearly identical gain between 1998 and 2000 for both the Limited-English-Proficient students, or LEP, and English-proficient students. “Well-implemented bilingual programs have proved to be very good,” Burnham says. “I think an important thing is the quality in education.”

The California Department of Education study also examined how Proposition 227 affected students, schools and districts. District administrators, school administrators and teachers across the state reported mixed or neutral effects of Proposition 227 on the quality of instruction for English learners.

More than half of the schools and the eight districts surveyed reported that as a result of the Proposition, there has been an increase in the focus on how best to teach English learners.

Board members of the Eagle County School District, who will decide Wednesday whether they’ll support a resolution against Amendment 31, say they see the proposed change as taking away local control to work in bilingual and dual-language programs.

“I think Amendment 31 has raised the issue that we need to look at our bilingual programs,” says Barbara Schierkolk, chairman of the school board. “No matter what happens with Amendment 31 in November, we’ll go forward with looking at how to improve our bilingual programs.”

A difference between Amendment 31 and Proposition 227 is that the Colorado initiative would mandate that English-language learners attend regular classrooms after one year of intensive instruction conducted in English. Proposition 227 requires that instruction for English learners be provided “overwhelmingly in English.”

“The one-size-fits-all concept doesn’t work when it comes to learning a second language,” says Jorge Garcia, of English Plus – a grassroots group opposing Amendment 31. “It should be our business in schools to teach our kids English.”

To read more on the Proposition 227 study, log on to (click on the elementary and secondary education tab of the publications page.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

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