National Family Literacy 2003 in Long Beach!


Setsuko Toyama

Karen Stanley

Jerry Esfeld

Peggy Hull

Says No to
English Only


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ESL MiniConference Online!

Reflecting On the Roles of Teachers
Colorado the First State to Reject English-Only

On November 5th, 2002, the English-only / anti-bilingual education movement hiccoughed. Voters in Colorado rejected Proposition 31, which had been carefully crafted by followers of Ron Unz with the hopes of leaving not an inch of wiggle room for any teacher to use any language other than English in the state's public schools. In Massachusetts, voters approved Question 2, a similar law which even gives parents the right to sue individual teachers who teach in a language other than English. Massachusetts lawmakers and education officials are now wrestling with the reality of Question 2 provisions which will cost the state $31 million to implement over the next two years, according to Boston Superintendent of Schools Thomas W. Payzant, as quoted in the November 7th Boston Globe.

In Colorado, educators successfully communicated their misgivings about the wording of Proposition 31 to the voting public, amidst a frenzy of spending on both sides--the Ron Unz versus Pat Stryker money war. Another key element in the Colorado victory for defenders of bilingual education was the consistent way in which language learning experts like Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, monitored discussions of Proposition 31 in the media and counter-attacked misrepresentations of bilingual education at every turn, with letters to the editor and editorials. Professor Krashen (a member of the ESL MiniConference editorial advisory board) batted .500 on November 5th. His message and fund-raising events could not penetrate the public consciousness in Massachusetts, but Colorado and its teachers were buoyed by the moral support of Krashen and others.

Perhaps because of its proximity to California, the home of Ron Unz and the first state to pass an English-only proposition, Colorado was more aware of certain facts about that state's experiences since Proposition 227 was enacted in 1998. In writing the California ballot measure, Unz committed a tactical error he will never forget. Proposition 227 changed the state's educational code, which is separate from state law itself. Because so many schools and districts in California had very effective bilingual and dual language programs in place, education officials would have faced challenges very similar to those now looming in Massachusetts, but for a provision in California's education code which allows a school or district to waive the entire code when necessary to better serve their students. Since 1998, new sheltered English immersion programs, as well as many strong bilingual education programs, have performed equally well in California. The state has become perhaps the best demonstration of why there is no need for English-only legislation.

Colorado held the line against what just a few years ago seemed like an English-only steamroller moving across America. Now, with Massachusetts facing the morning-after reality shock of a truly Draconian anti-bilingual education law, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the English-only movement. Perhaps more Americans will realize the importance of not taking teaching tools away from our public-school teachers. We all should try to show more respect for the intelligence, judgment and dedication of those who educate our children, instead of "dumbing down" our schools with one-size-fits-all proposals.

Story by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online