NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fighting Bilingual Education

July 24, 1997

A grass-roots campaign called "English for the Children" is circulating a petition in California that would let voters curtail bilingual education in the state's public schools. It may receive its strongest backing from Hispanic parents. In June 1997, 83 percent of Latino respondents to a Los Angeles Times poll said they oppose bilingual education.

If the petition receives the signatures of 433,000 registered California voters by Nov. 13, the state will hold a referendum in June 1998 on the initiative, which requires that all public school instruction be conducted in English.

  • In California, 1.3 million public school students -- 23 percent of the total -- can be described as "not proficient" in English.
  • Over the past decade, that number has more than doubled.
  • Each year only 5 percent of the state's public school students not previously proficient in English are deemed to have gained English proficiency.
  • Critics of bilingual education charge that it is a $500 million a year industry in California -- with educators at all levels having a huge incentive to sign up bilingual students, since the size of bilingual budgets are determined by how many students are enrolled in the classes.

Research indicates that too many Latino students end up not speaking either English or Spanish well.

  • Scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills show that California fourth-graders who move to English-only classes from Spanish instruction are hopelessly unable to perform well in English.
  • The states' Hispanic students have consistently scored the lowest of any ethnic group on the Scholastic Assessment Test -- and have the highest drop-out rate at 40 percent.
  • Figures from California's Department of Education show that the number of the state's public school students in bilingual programs, or certified eligible for those programs, more than doubled from 1981 to 1993.
  • And the percentage of those making it into English-only classes dropped by more than half.

Yet a decade ago, 80 percent of the Los Angeles teachers' union voted against bilingual education.

Source: Hal Netkin (NPS Associates), "English Not Taught Here," Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1997.


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