Yes on 58

Proposition 58 is a substantial revision to a previous proposition, Proposition 227 (passed in 1998), which would, in effect, nullify most of the previous proposition.

Disclaimer: I voted against Proposition 227.

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Proposition 227 added a new Chapter to Part 1 of the Education Code, encompassing sections 300-340.

The new chapter included the following changes to state law:

* it required that the teaching of English be done primarily in English, rather than using a student’s primary language as a scaffolding for teaching English
* it required English learners to be taught using “sheltered English immersion” for at most a year, at the end of which time, they would be moved to regular English-language classes.
* it encouraged school districts to mix English learners of different primary languages in the same classrooms

The new chapter allowed the following exceptions, with annually-renewed written parental consent (but required that such consent could only be obtained after the parents *personally visited the school*):

* Children whose language skills were above average for their grade level could opt out of the immersion program
* Children over the age of 10 could opt out of mainstreaing
* Children with special needs who tried a regular English classroom for at least 30 days and the school principal and educational staff determined that due to special needs, mainstreaming would not work

(The full text of Proposition 227 is still available at http://vigarchive.sos.ca.gov/1998/primary/propositions/227text.htm)

Proposition 227 passed by a 61-38 majority.

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Proposition 58 effectively replaces the entire text of the chapter.

* school districts must provide all pupils with the ability to become proficient in English
* school districts must provide structured English immersion programs
* school districts are encouraged to make native English speaking students proficient in another language
* school districts must solicit input on, and provide to pupils, a variety of instructional methods including “language acquisition programs”
* “language acquisition programs” can include dual-language immersion or transitional programs which use a student’s native language to provide academic instruction, as well as structured english immersion programs

* parents may choose the language acquisition program of their choice (the mandatory visit, the written consent, and the limits on who can get a waiver are repealed)

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As someone who doesn’t follow education industry politics, I have an obvious first question: why now? Proposition 227, which I opposed, was passed by a sizable majority; what’s happened in the ensuing eighteen years to cause this proposition to be placed on the ballot, and to cause it to be winning in a landslide according to recent polling data (http://www.field.com/fieldpollonline/subscribers/Rls2551.pdf)?

There’s some evidence that this is in part due to a lack of memory; the Field Poll, linked above, shows that the proposition leads 69-14 if you just read the ballot label, but that it *fails* if you mention Proposition 227 first and describe it as a repeal of Proposition 227.

But while lack of memory is enough to explain why people aren’t rallying to the angry defense of a proposition from two decades ago, it doesn’t explain what’s behind the push for the measure.

As usual, the VIG’s arguments for and against are unhelpful. The argument for says that this is needed to enable “up-to-date teaching methods” and thereby would make California’s population better able to handle the rapidly changing world brought about by modern technology.

The argument against denounces Proposition 58 as a dishonest trick and a scam, which is odd because the proposition seems quite straightforward in terms of what it’s trying to do.

Still, the argument against gives a hint as to what is going on. The argument against calls back to a memory of a time when limited english speakers were “forced into spanish-almost-only” classes which made it easy for Spanish-speaking students to skate and never learn English while incentivizing native speakers of other languages to learn Spanish rather than English. To the extent that that gloomy scenario was real, Proposition 58 threatens to *restore* it, and is only an idea the public can entertain because Proposition 227 succeeded in making the problem go away.

If it was a real thing and not a paranoid fear. I voted against in part because I thought it was more paranoid fear than reality, and in part because I believed that dual language immersion can sometimes be a better approach, and thought it was folly to prohibit the use of a better approach.

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For people who voted in 1998, it seems to me that your vote should be controlled by how you voted then. Unless there is some new information you can point to which has changed your mind on the issue, if you voted ‘Yes’ on 227 you should vote ‘No’ on 58, and vice-versa, because Proposition 58 is in essence a repeal of Proposiition 227.

If you have new evidence that has caused you to change your mind, I’d like you to share it, because I’m too distant from the situation to have acquired such information.

If you didn’t vote in 1998 and therefore have never voted on this issue before, it seems to me that the fundamental questions are:

* do you believe that dual-language immersion and transitional native-language instruction is a useful tool that can help people learn English? If you do not, then you should vote no on this measure.

* do you believe that dual-language immersion and transitional native-language instruction can be used in the public schools in a way that doesn’t devolve into the “almost spanish-only instruction” nightmare scenario the official opponents envision? If you do not, then you should vote against this measure.

* do you believe that non-english instruction is per se problematic in a public school, even if it is useful and can be done in a way that avoids the parade of horribles? if so, then you should vote against this measure.

Otherwise, I think, you should vote for it.

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