This is a surprisingly interesting issue. It comes down to the pedagogical question How should students, who are not fluent in English, best learn English?
To understand this measure, there's some history to recount. So in 1998, Prop 227
was passed statewide to make sure students learned English by making it very difficult to be taught in a bilingual setting. As a student still learning to speak English fluently, unless you had a waiver, you were put into English-only classrooms – meaning the teacher would speak nearly 100% in English – after only a year of structured English immersion. The intention of the (racially tinged) law was to prevent students from languishing in bilingual programs that didn't effectively teach them English. But, the appetite for bilingual programs in 1998 was much less than 2016. Anyways, after ten years, bilingual classrooms had all but disappeared.
It's now the distant future, 2016, and the Legislature has recommended to the ballot Prop 58 – what you're voting on – to repeal the key parts of Prop 227 and essentially allows local communities to decide how to teach English-learners, whether it's English-immersion, transitional bilingual, dual-immersion, or other variations.
Hard to say with certainty, but according to research, it probably wasn't the best route. Pro-English-immersion folks cite the success of Prop 227 in test scores
, which have increased. But others say the data is conflated with national testing requirements, and in general, students' scores all
, mandated by the state and published in 2006, says the data cannot unambiguously conclude that one way to teach English is better than the other, but the gap between English-learners and English speakers has not budged.
A recent study
by Stanford looked at 18,000 English-learners and found a more nuanced relationship. English-learners in dual-immersion programs
lagged behind their peers in 2nd grade, but by 5th grade, they had surpassed them.
The research continues. In five different meta-analyses conducted since 1985, they all concluded bilingual education created better English reading skills compared to English-immersion. But, a study in 2011 did a randomized, controlled study, placing different English-learners in bilingual and English-immersion programs. They found no significant difference. They argue it's more about the quality of teaching and curriculum.
Proponents for 58 also talk about how the climate for bilingual education has changed, and it is now desirable to be biliterate. Passing Prop 58 would give schools and local communities flexibility on how to implement such programs.
Ron Unz, who created Prop 227 in 1998, says that Prop 58 is an effort to help Anglo children become multi-lingual by forcing non-English speakers into bilingual classes. He also isn't worried that if Prop 58 passes, much will change, saying a generation has already seen how effective immersion is.
It's a lot to take in, but this is an important vote. It affects 1 in 5 students, of which 80% speak Spanish. That's 1.4 million
students who aren't fluent in English.