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Topic: New York Times on Prop. 227 Test Results
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Wayne Bishop

Posts: 5,465
Registered: 12/6/04
New York Times on Prop. 227 Test Results
Posted: Aug 20, 2000 2:33 AM
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At 06:20 PM 8/19/00 -0400, Guy Brandenburg wrote:

Wayne Bishop wrote:
>> We live in a representative democracy, with
>> occasional glimpses of full democracy (Prop
>> 227, that made primary instruction in Spanish illegal, and Prop 209, that
>> made race-based decision-making illegal, come to mind)

> I find those cases to be glimpses of racist demagoguery.

Or read the front page of this morning's NY Times. But, left to the
education industry, we still have "professional" denial, "With so many
variables introduced at once, Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education ..."


As America's national newspaper of record, the New
York Times carries the important responsibility of
evaluating the nature and significance of regional
events, and providing that information to policy-
makers throughout the country.

I am therefore very pleased that today's edition of
the Times carries a long front-page story on
California's new immigrant test scores in the wake
of Prop. 227, which began the dismantling of
bilingual education in 1998.

Although two years is far too short a time to form
a conclusive judgment, the average 50% increase in
mean percentile test scores for over a million
immigrant children in California schools is highly
encouraging. Even more encouraging is that those
individual districts such as Oceanside Unified
which most strictly complied with the provisions of
Prop. 227 also seemed to register the greatest
gains, gains of even 100% or more in some cases.

In several grades, Oceanside's immigrant students---
many the children of impoverished Spanish-speaking
farm-workers often just recently arrived from
Mexico---are now fast approaching the academic
performance of America's white, suburban English-
speaking students. Furthermore, this
transformation took place in less than two years
and with no additional funding.

Given these facts, it seems reasonable that a
wholesale and thorough replacement of bilingual
education with English immersion throughout America
might have a similarly rapid impact on the
educational prospects of millions of other Latino
students from Texas to Tennessee.

Since both Presidential campaigns have trumpeted
their desire both to improve education and to assist
immigrants, perhaps one or the other will read the
front-page of the New York Times and draw some
appropriate conclusions.


Ron Unz, Chairman
English for the Children


"Increase in Test Scores Counters Dire Forecasts for Bilingual Ban"
Jacques Steinberg, New York Times,
Sunday, August 20, 2000, FRONT PAGE

OCEANSIDE, Calif., Aug. 17 -- Two years after
Californians voted to end bilingual education and
force a million Spanish-speaking students to
immerse themselves in English as if it were a cold
bath, those students are improving in reading and
other subjects at often striking rates, according
to standardized test scores released this week.

Many educators had predicted catastrophe if
bilingual classes were dismantled in this state,
which is home to one of every 10 of the nation's
public school children, many of them native Spanish
speakers. But the prophecies have not materialized.

In second grade, for example, the average score in
reading of a student classified as limited in
English increased 9 percentage points over the last
two years, to the 28th percentile from the 19th
percentile in national rankings, according to the
state. In mathematics, the increase in the average
score for the same students was 14 points, to the
41st percentile from the 27th.

The results, which represent the first effort to
measure the new law's effects, are expected to
reach beyond California's borders, most immediately
in Arizona, where voters will be presented with a
ballot initiative in November asking them whether
the state should outlaw bilingual education . The
California test scores are also expected to
influence Colorado, where a similar measure
narrowly missed getting on the ballot this fall,
and in Massachusetts and New York, where
antibilingual forces are marshaling.

It is too early to know precisely how much the
erasure of bilingual education contributed to the
rising scores -- class sizes in the second grade
have also been reduced over the same period, for
example -- but the results are remarkable given
predictions that scores of Spanish-speaking
students would plummet.

Consider the experience of Ken Noonan, who likened
the change in his position on bilingual education
over the last two years to a religious conversion.
Mr. Noonan, who founded the California Association
of Bilingual Educators 30 years ago and who is now
the school superintendent in this city 35 miles
north of San Diego, was among those who warned in
1998 that children newly arrived from Mexico and
Central America would stop coming to school if they
were not gradually weaned off Spanish in
traditional bilingual classes.

Now, he says he was wrong.

"I thought it would hurt kids," Mr. Noonan said of
the ballot initiative, which was called Proposition
227. "The exact reverse occurred, totally
unexpected by me. The kids began to learn -- not
pick up, but learn -- formal English, oral and
written, far more quickly than I ever thought they

"You read the research and they tell you it takes
seven years," added Mr. Noonan, a Californian whose
Mexican mother never learned English. "Here are
kids, within nine months in the first year, and
they literally learned to read."

As evidence, Mr. Noonan need not look farther than
his own district, where, in a mirror of the state,
one of every four students, or more than 5,000, is
classified as limited English proficient. Oceanside
was among the most diligent school districts in the
state in adhering to the new law, and recorded some
of the biggest increases.

In the second grade in Oceanside, for example, the
average reading score of students initially
classified as limited English jumped 19 percentage
points over the last two years -- to the 32nd
percentile from the 13th, according to preliminary
state figures.

Only in the 10th and 11th grades, in a reflection
of the entrenched language problems of teenage
Spanish speakers statewide, were the increases
below four percentage points.

Oceanside's performance was all the more striking
when measured against the nearby district of Vista,
where half the limited English speakers -- about
2,500 students -- were granted waivers by the
superintendent to continue in bilingual classes. In
nearly every grade, the increases in Oceanside were
at least double those in Vista, which is similar in
size and economic background to Oceanside.

At the very least, the results so far in California
represent a tentative affirmation of the vision of
Ron K. Unz. Mr. Unz is the Silicon Valley
entrepreneur who almost single-handedly financed
and organized the initiative that has all but
eliminated bilingual education in California, in
which students were taught math, social studies and
science in their native language until they
gradually picked up English. (Students who now wish
to be taught in such classes must seek a waiver
from their districts, on the grounds that they
would otherwise be educationally or psychologically
harmed by the pace of the English immersion class.)

Mr. Unz, who has played an active role in the
Arizona effort, said he had been dismayed to read
several years ago that students across California
were languishing in bilingual classes for six years
or more, routinely failing to graduate. He also
found that there was little research that supported
bilingual education, which had been developed in
Congress in the 1960's, at least in part, as a
means to send federal aid to poor Southwestern
school districts. Even supporters concede it soon
became entrenched as a way to pay the salaries of
thousands of bilingual teachers and administrators.

"The test scores these last two years have risen,
and risen dramatically," Mr. Unz said in a
telephone interview. "Something has gone
tremendously right for immigrants being educated in

In Oceanside, as in many districts in the state,
the elimination of bilingual education has been
accompanied by other changes, making its impact
hard to gauge with precision. Class sizes in the
lower elementary grades have been pared to 20, from
more than of 30 two years ago, with an infusion of
state aid. For the most intransigent readers,
Spanish speakers chief among them, an old-
fashioned, sound-it-out, phonics approach to
teaching reading has replaced whole language, a
more progressive approach that encourages students
to use context clues to extract meaning, sometimes
at the expense of pronunciation.

With so many variables introduced at once, Kenji
Hakuta, a professor of education at Stanford
University, argued that few conclusions about
bilingual education could be drawn from the
results, other than that "the numbers didn't turn
negative," as many had feared. Indeed, Professor
Hakuta said that given a new emphasis on testing
statewide, some districts are clearly teaching to
the exams. Scores are up across the board in nearly
all grades, though rarely as sharply as in

He said that districts like Oceanside were posting
such sizable gains, in part, because their previous
scores had been so abysmally low -- and remained

While the school districts are required to
implement the new law, it is difficult to ascertain
to what degree they have been teaching their
Spanish-speaking students in English. The law
requires only that teachers instruct
"overwhelmingly" in English. But that is often
easier to do in third grade, when the subject is
multiplication, than in 11th grade, where it might
be trigonometry. The state has mounted little
effort to measure compliance.

Despite his initial, personal opposition to the new
law, Mr. Noonan of Oceanside said that he was
insistent that his district, in a city of 152,000
whose residents range from migrant farmers to naval
officers to dot-com millionaires, would strictly
follow the ban and teach Spanish-speaking students
exclusively in English.

And thus, Mr. Noonan's district makes an
interesting case study.

Though the state permitted districts the discretion
to grant waivers, Mr. Noonan took a hard line. Of
5,000 students in the district who, according to a
basic skills test, were found to have limited
English proficiency, 150, or 3 percent, sought
waivers; only 12 were granted.

By comparison, in the nearby district of Vista,
where parents supporting bilingual education have
created a powerful advocacy group, about one of
every two students sought a waiver from the new
law, and all such requests were granted.

"Our philosophy," said Dave Cowles, the Vista
superintendent, "is that we give the parent the
information about the benefits and the downside of
the bilingual program, and then let them decide."

But so far, for the first time in recent memory,
Oceanside is outpacing its archrival Vista.

In Oceanside, the average score of third graders
who primarily speak Spanish improved by 11
percentage points in reading over the last two
years, to the 22nd percentile; in Vista, the gain
was a more modest 5 percentage points, to the 18th

In fifth grade in Oceanside, limited English
speakers gained 10 percentage points in reading,
with the average in the 19th percentile; in Vista,
there was no increase, the average of limited
English speakers staying flat, in the 12th

"It's premature to comment on which ultimately
works better," said Mr. Cowles, the Vista

Yet he added, "If these results are indicative of
how students learn best, then we have to take them
into account when we talk to parents."

In Oceanside, virtually all vestiges of bilingual
education have been disassembled, including at
Garrison Elementary, a stucco-coated building
surrounded by eucalyptus trees, where nearly one of
every two students is a native Spanish speaker.
There, Leticia Cortez, a certified bilingual
teacher, now teaches mathematics in English to her
Spanish-speaking first graders.

She resorts to speaking Spanish to a student only
if he appears to be in emotional distress, and then
only to counsel him, not to instruct.

That was the case with Christian Domínguez, 7,
whose broad grin is usually flanked by deep
dimples, but who cried for the first two weeks he
spent in Ms. Cortez's class, which he entered only
days after arriving from Mexico.

"The only thing I could talk in English," he said,
"was nothing."

But nine months later, Christian is able to read
short books about dinosaurs and the cartoon
character Arthur, while understanding what he hears
on his favorite television show, "X-Men."

His mother, Rocío, 28, a baby sitter, said, "I'm
happy, oh, wow!"

In fact, so much English is spoken by parents and
children and teachers in Oceanside that Gabriela
Díaz, 8, who is entering the third grade, has
experienced an unforeseen consequence of
Proposition 227.

"When my friends from Mexico come here," she said,
"I don't understand what they're saying."

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