In 1998, Proposition 227 essentially ended bilingual instruction in California schools. It forced English learners into one year of “sheltered English immersion,” hindering their ability to learn academic English and achieve at grade level. Many continued in those classes or were then placed in regular classrooms to sink or swim. The CFT strongly opposed Proposition 227.

Additionally, Prop 227 
required parents who want their child to continue in a bilingual setting to sign a waiver stating that their child already knows English, has special needs, or would learn English faster through an alternate instructional technique. As a punitive measure, Prop 227 allowed a parent to sue for enforcement of the measure’s provisions, holding school board members, administrators, and teachers personally liable. 

This annual waiver requirement placed a cumbersome administrative burden on schools. That burden, compounded with the potential threat of lawsuits, moved many districts to dismantle successful bilingual education programs. Nevertheless, California employers continue to seek workers who are fluent in more than one language. 

Now, 18 years later, voters can reverse this ill-informed law. Proposition 58 preserves the requirement that public schools ensure students become proficient in English, yet authorizes dual-language immersion programs for both native and non-native English speakers and allows families to select a language program that best suits their child.

Prop 227 replaced effective bilingual education programs with sheltered English immersion under the incorrect assumption that developing a student’s home language prevented the student from learning English, or that spending time acquiring two languages hinders progress in either one.

In fact, after only one year of English instruction, most students with limited English cannot be expected to develop the proficiency required to meet rigorous academic content standards in English. Furthermore, students taught and proficient in their first language are able to carry that proficiency to additional languages.

Proposition 58 will require districts and county offices of education to provide programs that lead to both English proficiency and academic achievement at grade level. Programs may include:

» Dual-language immersion with academic instruction for native English speakers and native speakers of other languages, with the goal of bilingual and biliterate students;
» Transitional or developmental, that provide instruction in English and a student’s native language to meet state standards;
» Structured English immersion in which most instruction is provided in English but the curriculum is designed for students learning English.

The first steps to closing the achievement gap are providing English learners with effective instruction and appropriate English acquisition programs. Native English speaking students will also benefit from increased language-learning opportunities. And parents can be unhindered in choosing an effective program to provide their children a multilingual education to meet the demands of the 21st century.

— By the CFT English Language Learners Committee.