Bilingual Education Faces Uphill Fight Summer was good to Ron Unz, the California crusader against bilingual education. Not only is he happy with his state’s test results–which he says show his English-immersion education plan is working–but a similar proposal he’s backing in Arizona was guaranteed a place on that state’s ballot in November.
Flush with optimism, the Silicon Valley multimillionaire has ignored naysayers: Unz’s stats, his opponents charged, were selective and soft, just as they had been in 198 when his proposal was approved by the voters. But lack of agreement about statistics didn’t stop approval of Proposition 227 by California voters grappling with a soft economy, a tide of immigrants and a call to hold teachers accountable for students’ poor academic performance. Unz’s law replaced the state’s bilingual education program with a one-year English immersion program, except for those students whose parents request a waiver.
For his new drive in Arizona, Unz has artillery he didn’t have in California–new, favorable test results and an organized, Hispanic-led group to campaign for his cause. “It’s unwise to take an approach where you don’t have strong and credible local support,” says Unz, a software entrepreneur. If Proposition 203 succeeds in Arizona, Unz expects to march east with similar plans, to states such as Massachusetts and New York with especially vocal debates over the merits of bilingual education.
“I don’t see any other way for chance,” says Unz, who lost a gubernatorial bid in 1994 and considered running for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat this year. “I don’t think politicians are going to do anything about it. Politicians are extraordinary
But bringing the debate to the polls–politicizing it–carries dark overtones, according to Delia Pompa, executive director of the National Association for bilingual Education, “[Bilingual education] has become an easy scapegoat for people nervous about immigration, people who have xenophobic tendencies,” she says. “It’ll be important to look toward Arizona to see what precedent is set there,” says Roberto Rodriguez, education reform coordinator for the National Council of La Raza. “We’re concerned with these initiatives that we feel are not related to the best interests of the education of children, but have more to do with external issues.”
The Arizona law would replace bilingual education with one year of English immersion, unless parents could prove a child’s social and psychological need for dual-language classes. Some Arizonans particularly fear a provision in the law that would give school the power to refuse, without explanation, a parent’s request for bilingual classes. “It’s taking away the power of parents to choose,” says.