by Dr. Grace P. McField, California State University, San Marcos
[Note: This is an updated version of the article published in the Multilingual Educator, 2015.]
Imagine a state with the world’s eighth largest economy. Of the country’s 40 million foreign-born, a full quarter (10 million) of this foreign-born subgroup resides there. They comprise 27% of the state’s 37 million residents (Trounson, 2012). The state boasts a vibrant, diverse community comprised of 39% Latinos, 38% Whites, 14% Asians, 6% African Americans, and 3% Other. The schools are 53% Latino, 25% White, 11% Asian American (including Filipino), 6% African American, and 3% Two or More Races, and less than 1% Native American and Pacific Islander, and None Reported. In the state, 43.2% of those 5 years old and up speak a language other than English at home, compared to 20% or 55.4 million out of 281 million people in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Nearly two-third of its students (59.4%) receive free and reduced price meals. At 22.8%, nearly a quarter of its students are learning English, and these children represent nearly one third (32%) of the nation’s English Learner (EL) population (NCES, 2013).
The state is California, and the current educational climate here is abuzz with new efforts to prepare all students to be ready for the global economy in the 21st century. There are the Common Core State Standards, implementation of the accompanying Smarter Balanced assessments that began in 2012, California’s ELD standards adoptes in 2012, the new and historic Local Control Funding Formula legislation signed into law in July, 2013, and California’s new ELA/ELD standards just launched in December 2014, the first of its kind in the nation, to name a few.
Thus today, combining accountability and rigor with local flexibility and responsibility are key features of new initiatives that hold both promise and challenges. As California’s educators strive to provide quality instruction for all learners in this diverse state through new standards, accountability, and program decision-making and budget control at the local level, all stakeholders need to be ever mindful of a key question regarding language, which is the medium through which all the rigorous Common Core standards will be implemented, i.e., taught and learned.
The key question is, what about the state’s language education policy? Is the state’s language education policy current and in keeping with other trenes and initiatives? The answer is a resounding NO.
Then: California voters approve a language education bill with a sketchy track record for over 1.4 million English Learners.
Since 1998, California’s schools have operated under the tight constraints of Proposition 227. Passed by a margin of 61% to 39%, the voter initiative mandated an all-English program called Structured English Immersion to be used for one year for ELs, unless a parental waiver was approved by the school. It was a plan with virtually no research base or support, then
or now. It also included funding for English language classes for adults who would promise to tutor ELs, and allowed teachers to be personally liable if the proposition was not followed and enforced. Today, over a decade after Proposition 227 was enacted in California, the majority of secondary level ELs are long-term ELs (LTELs) who have been unable to be reclassified as English proficient after six or more years (Olsen, 2010).
As a context piece, in 1997, Superintendent Delaine Eastin’s proposal to digitally wire every school in California was deemed impractical by the California Business Roundtable, a group comprised of major chief financial officers in the state. The Roundtable supported Governor Wilson’s $100 million digital high school initiative to fund about 200 high schools in the state for technology resources.
In recent history, Proposition 227 can be traced back to 1981, when California’s late Senator S. I. Hayakawa introduced a constitutional amendment (S.J. Res. 72) into the U.S. Congress. Although the proposed amendment did not report out of committee, 18 states passed initiatives naming English as their official language within the decade. In 1983, Hayakawa founded U.S. English, an organization dedicated to promoting a common official national language. In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 63 with 77% of voter support, which made English the official language of California (Ricento, 1995). It would be the passage of many social policies that ostensible seeks to advance unity through English, but in reality effectively controls and curtails immigrants’ language use and full participation in government programs including public schooling.
Proposition 227 (1998) followed Proposition 187 (1994), an initiative to bar undocumented aliens from receiving public education or services, except for emergency medical care that passed 59% to 41%; and Proposition 209 (1996), which sought to amend the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in the sectors of public employment, public contracting, and public education. It passed 55% to 45%.
Los Angeles Times exit polls reported that 63% of White voters and 23% of Latino voters voted for Proposition 187, while African-American and ethnic Asian voters were split in their voting. Most notably, Whites comprised 57% of California’s population but 81% of voters, while Latinos totaled 26% of the state’s population but just 8% of voters (California Opinion Index, 1994).
Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action proposition, was enacted by 62% of White voters and 23% of Latino voters who voted in favor; while most African American, Latino, and Asian American voters were opposed. At the time, Whites comprised 53% of California’s population but 77% of voters, while Latinos totaled 30% of the state’s population but just 11% of voters (California Opinion Index, 1994).
Proposition 227 appealed to voters for several reasons. In his analysis of exit polls conducted by the Los Angeles Times and Alvarez and Nagler Political Research Group (ANPRG), Alvarez (1999) found that one of the strongest factors in voter support for Proposition 227 was racial or ethnic self-identification, with more Whites, Asians and Blacks having voted for the Proposition while Latinos voted against it.
In another statewide voter analysis, Castro (1998) noted that non-Hispanic white voters were instrumental in the passage of the proposition: “Indeed, there has been a consistent voting pattern across the country on issues similar to Proposition 227 for almost two decades. Non- Hispanic white voters favor anti-bilingual measures by a huge majority. Latino voters oppose such measures by about the same margin, and African Americans and Asians fall in-between. Putting this picture together, it is clear that the center of gravity of support for ending bilingual education is among non-Hispanic whites. California’s two largest minorities, African Americans and Latinos, opposed the measure, while the third, Asians, gave it lukewarm support. Because Latinos made up only 12 percent of the electorate in June (compared to 29.4 percent of California’s population), their strong opposition to Proposition 227 could not counter massive non-Hispanic white support.”
In light of Alvarez’s (1999, p. 16) reflection, “the other way in which Proposition 227 might not have passed would have been the construction of strong cross-racial coalitions,” if we are to claim this golden opportunity to replace the outdated 227 language education policy with SB 1174, we must reach out across traditional ethnic groups, forge new partnerships and alliances among educators, parents, students, and community organizations, and work together for things to change.
In doing so, we must keep the true goals of public schools, which are to foster community building and shared participation in education, front and center. We must demonstrate how the welfare of ELs surely impacts our collective interests and individual needs both in the present and in the future. The fact that the majority of secondary level ELs has been ELs for six years or more has serious implications for not only academic achievement and graduation rates for individual students and schools, but also for the quality of the workforce and welfare of our shared communities, funding of the social security system and active civic engagement.
Following 227, in one district, all Spanish language books were systematically removed from school libraries and locked up. In the years that followed, parent complaints alleged that their waivers had been torn up, while teachers reported the district superintendent demanded that waivers be personally submitted to his desk, a statement made to actually deter any waivers from being submitted at all. In the over 16 years since 227 has been law, in many districts around the state, many teachers and school district leaders have shifted away from the controversial language of instruction issue, and focused on the ongoing standards and accountability requirements and issues that primarily address English language instruction and testing. This approach has resulted in neglecting the critical role of the primary language in learning and achievement. In recent years, the new generation of teachers who have earned a teaching credential under SB 2042, as well as administrators and teachers, report that 227 is a non-issue or are not aware that the policy does allow for instruction in a language the students can understand and learn from through the parental waiver clause.
How can parents exercise their right to choose the strongest research-based program for their children if teachers and school leaders themselves do not know about the law or actively share this key information? Proposition 227 has had a devastating impact on bilingual education programs, programs that build on students’ prior knowledge, i.e., home language, and allow for EL parents to participate meaningfully in their children’s schooling in a language they know. In fact, since 1998-99, the number of teachers providing instruction in the student’s primary language has decreased dramatically from 14% of all EL teachers (16,360 out of a total of 117,004) in 1999, to an alarming 2.4% (4,793 out of 202,475) in 2010-11 (California Department of Education, Educational Demographics Unit, 1999 – 2011). At the same time, the number of ELs increased by 9.5% from 1,442,692 in 1998 to 1,513,233 in 2009.
What about the research on language education programs? Alvarez (1999) also noted that opinions about bilingual education and the belief that Americans should speak English played critical roles in influencing the 227 vote. Most analyses of the political context of 227’s passage indicate that the public was not aware of the research indicating effectiveness when it comes to bilingual education programs for ELs. Especially noteworthy are findings from public opinion studies that reveal that there is general public support for the key principles of bilingual education, but that often there is confusion or lack of clarity about what the key instructional components of bilingual education programs consist of (Krashen, 1996).
As noted in McField (2014), the balance of all the quantitative analyses on bilingual education programs means that nearly 1,000 studies showing no difference between bilingual and English-only programs must be located in order to negate the balance of research findings showing clear and consistent support for bilingual education programs. Additionally, current research continues to show that English-only does not yield superior results when compared to bilingual English development programs for this population. (Gándara & Hopkins, 2010; Owens, 2010; Ríos-Aguilar, González- Canché, and Sabetghadam, 2012.)
Does Proposition 227 infringe on federally guaranteed civil rights and equal opportunity to learn? In all manners and analyses, Proposition 227 is an infringement on civil rights and an equal opportunity to learn. It obstructs personal liberties of language, a marker of identity inextricably tied to heritage and valúes. A fuller analysis of the federal and legal context of policy for ELs is beyond the scope of this paper and interested readers are directed to The Miseducation of English Learners (2014), which provides an overview
of the three state propositions that restricted ELs’ access to learn in CA, AZ and MA, and provides a helpful overview of federal case law and talking points for advocacy, and future possibilities for ELs.
Now: A golden opportunity for California
In February 2014, Senator Ricardo Lara introduced Senate Bill 1174 (SB 1174 or California Multilingual Education Act), which would give local school districts, with parent and community input via the LCAP, more flexibility and choice to select the best English language development program including bilingual education or dual immersion programs. SB 1174 also deletes parents’ authority to sue educators over the implementation of Structured English Immersion programs. The bill received strong support by both the Senate (71%) and Assembly (67%) in August, 2014. Governor Brown signed the bill in September, 2014, and it will be voted on in November 2016 by the people of California.
What does the California electorate look like now vs. then? California’s electorate has shifted dramatically since 1994, when 77% of registered voters were white, 11.4% were Latino, 5.9% were African American, and 4.4% were Asian American. As of 2012, counterpart figures were 55.6% white, 24% Latino, 10.3% Asian American, and 6.9% African American. By November 2016, California’s electorate will be even more diverse, marked by the fact that Asian Americans and Latinos are among the fastest growing groups in the state (Ramakrishnan & Lee, 2014). Regarding today’s public sentiment toward affirmative action, two-thirds (66%) of California’s registered voters are significantly in favor of affirmative action related to higher education and employment. This holds true for whites. In contrast, 54% of the electorate supported Proposition 209 (1996) that ended affirmative action in the state then.
Following is a comparison of where major racial/ethnic groups stood on the issue of affirmative action in 1996 and in the 2014 poll: Whites, 63% supported 209 (i.e., 37% opposed) vs. 57% support it today; African Americans, 74% opposed 209 vs. 83% support it today; Latinos, 76% opposed 209 vs. 81% support it today; Asian Americans, 61% opposed 209 vs. 69% support it today (Ramakrishnan & Lee, 2014).
Regarding party affiliation in the state, the breakdown of the November 2014 California electorate was 44% Democrat, 30% Republican, and 26% Independent, although the ideology breakdown was more evenly split across three major categories — 30% liberal, 31% conservative, and 39% moderate (Bruno, 2014). Recall that 187, 209, and 227 were all strongly supported by Democrats. Large portions of African Americans, Latinos, and young voters are California Democrats.
Last but not least, since voters are largely comprised of adults without children (Fox News Politics, 2014), it is helpful to consider the fact that adults without children in public schools will comprise the majority contingency that needs to hear accurate, research- based information about SB 1174 so that they can make an informed vote at the ballot in November 2016.
Does the Lara bill (Senate Bill 1174) have a chance of voter approval in 2014?
The current climate is much more supportive of multilingual education than before. Presently, 38 states in the country (Gil, 2014) and 359 California schools offer dual language programs that teach two languages to students dominant in English and in another target world language (California Association for Bilingual Education, 2015). In California, thanks to Californians Together, the state in 2011 became the first to issue a state level Seal of Biliteracy (Seal of Biliteracy, 2014). As of July 2014, 25,000 students in 165 school districts across the state have been awarded the Seal (California Department of Education, 2014). Eight states already issue a Seal of Biliteracy and four more are considering it.
If mainstream newspapers are one indication, in 2014, at least two editorials from The Los Angeles Times acknowledged the consistent research foundation regarding the effectiveness of bilingual education programs (see Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, 2014 June 4 and Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, 2014 November 30).
What is the current capacity to restore and even increase research- based programs for English Learners? Bilingual Teacher Supply: Since 2001, the number and percentage of new bilingual teachers receiving bilingual credentials have steadily dropped from 8% of all teaching credentials issued in 2001 (CTC, 2002) to 5.8% as of 2009 (CTC, 2011) (Note: figures include concurrent and add-on bilingual authorizations. Data for 2010-11 (0.007%) was not verified as reliable due to the transition from BCLAD to bilingual authorizations in the state.) Proposition 227 directly curbed the number of new bilingual teachers due to its affirmation and legitimization and valuing of monolingual instruction. A multilingual California needs and deserves an increase in its multilingual teaching force. SB 1174 will give rise to such critically needed changes in teacher preparation for a global economy.
What key action steps are necessary to realize California’s golden opportunity?
Educators, parents and students in California today are living in the legacy of an outdated language policy. Despite the bustle of new reforms and efforts, the basic issue of access to core curriculum remains ever saliente in the English Learner classroom. More than ever, in this era of standards and accountability, it is critical that we engage in evidence-based practices.
• Statewide data must be transparent and utilize student level data to inform program effectiveness and decision- making for all students, including ELs. • We must continue to share and disseminate research on effective programs and successful schools that show powerful outcomes for ELs, so that districts can make the best decisions to advance success for all.
• We must advocate vigilantly for assessments in the primary language, since we know that measurement only in English is largely inaccurate and/or invalid for ELs.
• We must advocate for accurate identification, assessment and placement in special education and gifted education programs for our ELs to address over-identification
and under-identification, respectively. Currently, 7% of the general population, but just 2% of ELs are in gifted programs (Gil, 2014).
• We must forge, through support of the Seal of Biliteracy and multilingual education programs including traditional bilingual education and dual language immersion programs, the much-needed alliances across racial and cultural/sociolinguistic communities and individuals noted as being critically important in influencing language education policy by Alvarez (1999).
• We must vote in 2016 and pledge to find 10 friends who will vote for SB 1174!
Can we transform education in the 21st century to a powerful level not yet seen before? Yes, we can! Let’s continue on this exciting collaborative journey by spreading the word about SB 1174. Signed by the governor in September 2014, and thus approved to be placed on the next voting ballot in November 2016, we have a short time to share important information about the consistent research showing positive effects for bilingual education (McField, 2014), and reach out, and build awareness about this critical issue so that all students can access the core curriculum and benefit from parent involvement and support, and shared local decisionmaking (via the LCFF).
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