Friday, October 21, 2016

Lasken op-ed in the Orange County Register

Prop. 58: A Trojan Horse to stop English instruction

By Doug Lasken

[This essay, re-posted from the Orange County Register- opposed California Proposition 58 on the Nov. 8, 2016 ballot.]

Public memory is short when it comes to complex education policy, such as that concerning bilingual education.  That is why the backers of Proposition 58, which would gut key provisions of California’s landmark Prop. 227 (1998) feel free to re-write pre-227 history.  

I was there and this is the true history.

Prior to passage of 227, native Spanish speaking students in California were placed in classes where the only language of instruction permitted was Spanish. Prop. 58 supporters deny this, but I taught in such classes for Los Angeles Unified and it is true.  The district Bilingual Master Plan decreed that all textbooks for native Spanish speakers must be in Spanish and the language of instruction must be Spanish only.  If the teacher was not fluent in Spanish, an aide, usually without a college degree, taught the academic subjects- math, social studies, history- in Spanish.  Thirty minutes per day was set aside for English, but this was conversational only: No English vocabulary, phonics, spelling or grammar could be used or taught.  The only way for Spanish-speaking students to study English was to pass an extremely difficult test in Spanish.  Most kids could not pass this test until middle or high school, if ever.  The result: the vast majority of Spanish speaking kids received almost no English instruction.

LAUSD had its own flourishes: Native Spanish speaking parents were advised not to speak English with their children because it would confuse them.  At one staff development we heard about “research” showing that people acquire languages better the older they are.  Yes, you read that right.

No wonder then, as a high school teacher several years later, I encountered Hispanic teenagers who asked me why they had not been taught English in elementary or middle school.  I had to explain that 227 had come too late for them.  

The forces behind the misnamed "bilingual education" policies included the textbook publishing lobby, which procured vast fortunes printing Spanish textbooks, and lobbies within teachers unions on behalf of Spanish speaking teachers who made $5,000 a year extra.  The system was also a job creator for administrators, with hundreds of positions like “bilingual coordinator.” 

It is disingenuous of Prop. 58 author State Senator Ricardo Lara to say that Prop. 227 prohibited “multilingual education”.  On the contrary, 227 mandated study of more than one’s native language.  Lara also throws the phrase “English only” at 227, one of the great slanders from “bilingual” supporters.  227 had nothing to do with “English Only.”

Voters should read the text of Prop. 58 carefully.   It starts on a soothing note: “(Prop. 58) preserves the requirement that public schools ensure students become proficient in English.”   

A problem soon appears: “(Prop. 58) requires that school districts provide students with limited English proficiency the option to be taught English nearly all in English.”  Under 227, learning English is not an “option,” but a right.  This significant and unsettling change is followed up with calls for dual-immersion programs (though they are already allowed by 227), and for parents’ right to pick how their children learn English (also provided in 227). 

Because of the distortions of 227 from Prop. 58’s author and the lack of clear need for any of its provisions, voters should be wary of this proposition.  On November 8, vote No on Prop. 58.

Doug Lasken is a retired Los Angeles Unified teacher, current debate coach and freelancer.  Reach him at

No comments:

Post a Comment