Proposition 58 passed in a landslide on Nov. 8, signaling that the majority of California voters are ready to explore the benefits of bilingual education for English-language learners and other kids in our K-12 schools. The new measure repeals a 1998 law called Prop 227, which required all K-12 students in California to be educated primarily in English regardless of their primary language.
Proposition 227 was regarded by many people to be primarily based on anti-immigrant sentiment, but it was also an attempt to address the sense that many Spanish-speaking students were never learning adequate English. Prop 227's sponsor claimed that Spanish-speaking immigrants were being put in Spanish-only classes that denied them the chance for literacy in English. Supporters of Prop 58 dispute those claims.
While Prop 227 didn't outlaw bilingual education, it required schools to obtain parental waivers before offering it. That requirement, and the possibility that noncompliance could bring on litigation, made school administrators nervous, according to an education policy expert with the Advancement Project.
As a result, she said, most schools dropped their bilingual education programs altogether, including the highly-valued language immersion programs. In fact, the number of students in bilingual classes plummeted from 30 percent to 4 percent since 1998.
Since then, research has been done to determine whether the outcomes were actually better among ELLs taught in English alone vs. those receiving bilingual instruction. According to a long-term study by Stanford University of young students in the San Francisco schools, the educational outcomes were equal for ELLs learning in any of four strategies: English immersion, developmental bilingual, transitioning from bilingual to English, and dual immersion.
Since there are a number of different ways to give ELLs the English proficiency they need, supporters reasoned, it should be up to parents and schools to choose the best method for their own children. Prop 58 is intended to give them back that authority.
The vast majority of immigrant parents want their kids to become fully literate in English. It's the key to success for most people in America. With California now offering a state seal of biliteracy on diplomas, however, becoming fluent in a second language can be a key to success for native English speakers, as well.