In a stunning political development, the senior educational appointees of Gov. Gray Davis’s Administration have moved to restore California’s system of bilingual education by nullifying crucial provisions of Proposition 227.
During the 1998 initiative campaign, Democratic Gov. Davis had been a leading opponent of Proposition 227, intended to dismantle failed bilingual programs and replace them with intensive English immersion. However, following the measure’s landslide victory, he had repeatedly pledged to comply with the letter and spirit of the law, and support it against legislative attacks.
Then late last week, Gov. Davis’s appointees to the California State Board of Education voted overwhelmingly to support newly proposed regulations allowing bilingual education teachers rather than parents to make the decision on whether children should be placed into bilingual education programs, thereby nullifying a core provision of Proposition 227.
Furthermore, these new regulations also eliminate the Proposition 227 requirement that English learners be taught English for at least the first thirty days of every school year. The combination of these two changes would essentially reestablish California’s system of bilingual education for 1.5 million immigrant students.
Former Inglewood Principal Nancy Ichinaga, one of California’s strongest opponents of bilingual education, was the sole dissenting vote on the State Board.
Most recent polls show Gov. Davis trailing his likely Republican challenger, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. In recent months, California’s highly-organized bilingual education advocates have apparently taken advantage of Gov. Davis’s political weakness to mount a quiet but intense lobbying campaign on this issue.
Documents obtained from the State Board of Education indicate that the new regulations were developed at a series of secret meetings held between Davis administration appointees and bilingual advocates at the office of State Sen. Richard Polanco, chairman of the Latino Caucus.
John Mockler, the veteran Sacramento educational lobbyist who currently serves as the Executive Director of the State Board, had previously served as Secretary of Education in Gray Davis’s Cabinet.
Information on the State Board and its members can be found on their official web site: http://www.cde.ca.gov/board/bio.htm
Gov. Davis has stressed that all his political appointees are expected to conform to his policy positions or immediately resign their positions. Ironically, this dramatic apparent reversal in the educational policies of the Davis Administration comes just as the California Department of Education has released new official statistics indicating that limited-English students who avoid bilingual programs perform far better academically than do their bilingual peers.
For example, in 2001, limited-English 2nd graders not in bilingual programs were 170% more likely to be reading at or above grade level than their counter-parts in bilingual programs. This data can be found on the official web site of the California State Department of Education, and is summarized in the following PDF link:
This extraordinary U-turn in the educational policies of the Davis Administration was quickly condemned by Michael Barone, the influential long-time editor of the authoritative Almanac of American Politics. Barone is also the recent author of The New Americans, a critically-acclaimed book on current immigration issues:
Just eighteen months ago, Barone had published a laudatory column praising Gov. Davis for his promise to fully enforce Proposition 227. In television appearances, Barone has frequently denounced bilingual education programs for their disastrous role in preventing immigrant children from learning English, and has gone so far as to characterize them as “evil.”
As the column indicates, Barone is currently giving Gov. Davis the benefit of the doubt, speculating that the effort to reestablish bilingual education in California represents a rogue political operation, taking advantage of the Governor’s preoccupation with energy policy and other pressing state matters.
Now that the facts have been uncovered, Davis’s response will quickly indicate whether or not Barone’s charitable interpretation is correct.
Any recipients of this column are obviously welcome to contact the Gray Davis Administration and help clarify its official position on reestablishing bilingual education in California by nullifying crucial provisions of Proposition 227
- Debating bilingual education by Michael Barone
US News, Friday, February 8, 2002