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June 6, 2008

What happened after California abolished bilingual education

The Economist:

TEN years to the day after California banned teaching in any language other than English, Erlinda Paredes runs through a new sentence with her kindergarten class. “El payaso se llama Botones”, she intones—“the clown's name is Buttons”. When a pupil asks a question in English, she responds in Spanish. It is an improbable scene. But the abolition of bilingual education has not worked out in quite the way anybody expected.

Before 1998 some 400,000 Californian children were shunted into classes where they heard as little as 30 minutes of English each day. The hope was that they would learn mathematics and other subjects in their native tongue (usually Spanish) while they gently made the transition to English. The result was an educational barrio. So that year Ron Unz, a software engineer, sponsored a ballot measure that mandated teaching in English unless parents demanded otherwise. Proposition 227 passed easily, with considerable support from Hispanics. Voters in two other states, Massachusetts and Arizona, have since followed suit.

In Santa Ana, a mostly poor Latino city in Orange county, the number of children in bilingual classes promptly halved. Demand would have been even less had schools not prodded parents to request waivers for their children. In the past few years demand for bilingual education has fallen further. This year 22,000 pupils in Santa Ana are enrolled in “structured English immersion” programmes, where they hear little but that language. Just 646 are taught bilingually.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at June 6, 2008 5:33 AM
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