Communists after the Fall of the Wall

Even years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, there doubtless still remain a few stubborn and elderly ideologues who proclaim the virtues of East European state socialism, arguing that it was never given a fair chance to succeed. The battle over bilingual education may soon be approaching such an end-game.

During 1998, the opponents of Prop. 227 wrote countless editorials and columns denouncing the initiative, and warning of educational disaster if it passed. Instead, in the past two years, the test scores of over a million immigrant children have risen by an average of 40%, with greater rises in those districts which tried to comply with the measure and lesser rises in those districts which tried to evade it.

In recent days, these undeniable facts have led America’s national media—across all ideological lines—to hail the obvious success of Prop. 227. Major stories or columns have run in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, US News, and the top television networks. Oceanside Unified Superintendent Ken Noonan is fast becoming a national hero for the astonishing rise in immigrant test scores generated by his extremely strict adherence to Prop. 227. (the ABC Sunday Evening News will be airing a segment shortly and the CBS Morning News will be interviewing me live 7:30am this Tuesday).

Unfortunately, some individuals and publications seem to have invested far too much of their credibility in opposing Prop. 227 to now admit that they were mistaken.

Aside from the numerous employees of the bilingual education industry itself, Peter Schrag, retired editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, is perhaps the clearest example of this. Since 1997, Schrag, a somewhat dogmatic white liberal, has published over a dozen different articles attacking Prop. 227 and its various supporters, notably myself, probably as many as any three other individuals combined.

Several of Schrag’s pieces have been personally insulting toward me, denouncing me as a charlatan for my alleged misuse of educational statistics, suggesting that my views had led many to regard me as “an ill-disguised bigot,” and arguing that I was at the very least racially-insensitive.

Given this history, Schrag obviously took my recent validation by the New York Times as a body-blow, and consequently published the column below, denouncing the Times for its incompetence in misinterpreting California’s test score data.

Although within 24 hours I had submitted a contrary piece to the Sacramento Bee, which ran Schrag’s column, it is unclear whether they will be willing to publish it. Since 1997, the liberal Bee has run over 25 original opinion pieces (including a dozen official editorials) critical of Prop. 227 and its supporters, without apparently a single opposing item. Perhaps 25-0 is viewed as more balanced than 25-1, or, as the Bee’s Deputy Editor informed me, my pieces’s arguments were just “insufficiently persuasive” (to him).

Since’s Schrag’s piece has already been widely distributed by bilingual advocates, this note will have to represent my quickest means of response.

Schrag’s analysis is apparently based on a widely distributed “rebuttal” of the NY Times story produced by a group of Stanford bilingual education theorists, led by Prof. Kenji Hakuta. Unfortunately, Schrag—whose background is neither in education nor the quantitive sciences—seems not to have closely examined the Stanford data (let alone solicited my own response) before accepting it. 9_2000/analysis2000.htm

Schrag and the Hakuta group correctly point out that the average 1998-2000 percentile point rise in test scores for California’s immigrant (LEP) and non- immigrant students was roughly the same, but incorrectly argue that this demonstrates the unimportance of Prop. 227. They fail to note the substantial difference in improvement between those districts which eliminated their bilingual programs and those which kept many or most of their immigrant students in bilingual classes.

Anyone can selectly find examples to prove a point. Fortunately, the very districts chosen by the Hakuta group to rebunk Prop. 227 instead indicate the exact opposite. The districts they selected are: (A) Oceanside, which most strictly eliminated bilingual education after Prop. 227; (B) Evergreen, Magnolia, Westminster, and Orange Unified, which eliminated bilingual education the year before Prop. 227 passed; and (C) Santa Ana, Vista, and Ocean View, which have kept many students in bilingual programs.

Although the Hakuta group claims that no clear pattern of improvement can be discerned from these selected districts, THEIR OWN DATA shows that this is simply absurd. Consider the mean percentile point increases across all elementary grades (2-6) and subject areas: (A-Oceanside) +18.3; (B-other English) +9.8, +5.9, +7.9, +6.6; and (C-bilingual) +5.7, +4.7, +4.5. The worst-improving English-only school does better than the best-improving pro-bilingual school, and Oceanside’s improvement was FOUR TIMES GREATER than the average pro-bilingual school. Furthermore, most of the pro-bilingual districts such as Vista were only able to keep about half their immigrant students in bilingual programs; the other half were shifted to English immersion. And remember, these are school districts “cherry-picked” by the leading academic opponents of Prop. 227 to debunk the initiative’s impact!

The scores in San Jose Unified, the only school district in California legally exempt from Prop. 227, rose just +4.4. Santa Barbara, regularly cited in the media as one of the most anti-bilingual districts after Oceanside, saw increases of +12.3.

This strong pattern has been completely confirmed by the San Jose Mercury News, which has so far performed the only statewide quantitative analysis of all million plus California immigrant test scores. Although the Mercury had opposed Prop. 227, its late 1999 front-page banner- headline revealed that statewide test scores of those immigrant students in schools which had shifted to Prop. 227-type English immersion classes averaged 30-50% higher after one year than those in schools which had stayed bilingual. The Mercury’s study was never challenged by bilingual advocates.

The facts on bilingual ed in California and elsewhere haven’t changed in the last few weeks. But since the New York Times story, most observers—with a few exceptions such as Schrag—have begun noticing them.

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