Massachusetts Republicans vs. “English”

As Karl Marx so aptly observed, history often occurs twice, first as tragedy, then later as farce. Certainly the “English” proposals of the unelected leader of Massachusetts’ near-extinct Republican Party seem to follow this historical script.

During 1998, California’s timorous Republicans, newly chastened by the dreadful political consequences of their immigrant-bashing, joined Democrats in opposing Proposition 227, replacing bilingual education with intensive English. But the voters, Democrat and Republican alike, ignored them, passing the measure by a twenty-two point landslide.

And their choice has been subsequently validated both by success: a huge rise in immigrant test scores, the glowing portrayals of the state and national media, and the born-again conversions of both the founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators and the President of the California State Board of Education.

Now in Massachusetts, one of the very few states where the Republican Party—holding not a single Congressional seat and tiny minorities in the Legislature—is perhaps even weaker than California, the state’s unelected but incumbent Republican governor has chosen to oppose the forthcoming “English” initiative as overly “Draconian.” Her proposed substitute has been to restrict bilingual education to no more than two years for a given student.

Although two years without English instruction is certainly better than the current three or five or seven, the apparent arbitrariness of that time period raises a simple and obvious question—why “two?”

Either bilingual education works or it doesn’t. If the former, it should be maintained, and if the latter, eliminated. The enormous throng of bilingual education academics and other advocates who claim its validity is rooted in sound theory and proven by empirical evidence universally claim that both theory and evidence indicate that at least five to seven years of bilingual study are an absolute necessity for success; two years would be a disaster.

Thus, Swift’s proposal represents a typically political solution to an educational conflict: keep the program, but throw out the theory and research behind it. This split-the-difference approach seems neither good policy, nor even good politics.

I attach the front-page story from yesterday’s Boston Globe, together with today’s follow up story in the Globe and editorial in the Boston Herald.

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