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Voter Driven Initiatives

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English Only Voter-Driven Initiatives

English Only Voter-Driven Initiatives/Laws

Christy Stewart
Grand Canyon University: ESL-223N
September 19, 2012

English Only Voter-Driven Initiatives/Laws There has been heavy debate over the best way to educate students whose first language is not English. Historically, past federal laws and court decisions protected the rights of non-English speaking children. One federal law established during the 1960s was the Bilingual Education Act (Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968). This law provided legal guidelines and funding for transitional bilingual education programs. In the Lau v. Nichols, case, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts were required to take affirmative steps to protect the civil rights of limited-English-proficient students (Mora, 2009). Due to the increase of non-English speaking students in the schools, several states asked the voters to make policy decisions regarding the education of English language learners. Voters in California, Arizona and Massachusetts by large percentages voted to pass the anti-bilingual education initiatives. However, other states like Colorado and Oregon rejected the initiatives. California’s Proposition 227, Arizona’s Proposition 203 and Massachusetts’s 603 CMR 14.00, state that all English language learners be educated for one year through a sheltered (or structured) English immersion program. This program would provide all instruction in English for the year; students must then transfer into mainstream English classrooms. These laws allow instruction of students in their non-English native language only under limited and restricted conditions through a parental petition and waiver process (Mora, 2009). The debate lies in the sociological and cultural impact this initiative has on families and children of English language learners. Proponents believe that it is imperative for ELLs to become proficient in the English language to fully assimilate in U.S. societies and achieve academic success. They believe that it is necessary to abandon one’s native language and cultural to be a full participant in the American culture. According to the California State Secretary, this initiative would have some fiscal effects: 1) By limiting the time LEP students can be in special classes generally to one year, would reduce the number of special classes schools would have to offer, resulting in major savings for schools; 2) New costs to schools for the one-year special classes. This could be more expensive than existing classes if schools provide more intensive services. Schools may also need to give LEP students extra help in academic subjects once they are moved to regular classes if they fall behind other students; and 3) "Compensatory" funds are provided to schools based on the number of LEP students in attendance. The initiative would likely reduce the number of students who are considered LEP at any given time. As a result, state funds would be allocated differently--some schools would get more compensatory funds and others would get less (Attorney General, 1998). Opponents of the initiative support bilingual programs due to the social, economic, cultural, and academic advantage they provide non-native English speakers. They believe children who learn in two languages and become proficient in both will flourish in both cultures as well as achieve academic success. For example, Colorado schools use different bilingual-based programs depending on the level of proficiency of the students. ESL (English-Second Language) programs are the most popular in Colorado schools. Eighty-six percent of the students taught in Colorado schools participate in ESL programs. This program is designed to teach the English language, with students who speak different languages receiving intensive instruction mostly in English. Another program that seems to be successful in Colorado is the TBE (Transitional Bilingual Education). In this program students receive most of their instruction in their native language. As students progress, in English, the program decreases the amount of instruction in their primary language. The goal of the program is to mainstream the students into regular classes as quickly as possible (Welner & Escamilla, 2002). The anti-bilingual education initiative has created conflicts and contradictions fueled by personal, political attitudes and ideologies. Research seems to show more favorable results with the bilingual programs as opposed to the immersion programs. Schools throughout the United States use a wide range of theoretically sound programs to meet the needs of the growing population of English language learners, who vary demographically and linguistically. It seems logical that bilingual based programs would be most effective particularly in schools whose population is predominantly comprised of other native speaking students.

Mora, J.K. (2009). From the Ballot to the Classroom. Educational Leadership. Supporting English Language Learners. 66(7). Pgs. 14-19. Retrieved on September 18, 2012 from
Welner, K. & Escamilla, K. (2002). The Unintended Consequences of Colorado's Anti-Bilingual Education Initiative. EPIC Education and the Public Interest Center. Retrieved on September 18, 2012 from
Attorney General (1998). English Language in Public Schools Initiative Statute. Proposition 227. Retrieved on September 18, 2012 from

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