California Voters to Decide How Schools Teach English-Learners

California Voters to Decide How Schools Teach English-Learners

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now let’s turn to an election
story at the state level. There are important ballot initiatives all
around the country. Tonight, we look at one of those battles,
over bilingual education in California. More than 9 percent of all students in the
United States don’t speak English fluently. They struggle more in school, trailing behind
in every academic measure and at every grade. In California, that’s true for nearly one
in every four children, or almost 1.5 million kids. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza with
our partner Education Week visited California, where voters will soon decide how to best
teach these children. It’s part of our weekly series Making the
Grade. KAVITHA CARDOZA: At a farmers market in San
Francisco, signs of multiculturalism are everywhere, a good place to convince citizens to vote
in favor of allowing bilingual education in California schools. SHELLY SPIEGEL-COLEMAN, Executive Director,
Californians Together: Hi. We’re here with information about Proposition
58 that’s going to be on the ballot in November. What Proposition 58 will do will really put
the decision-making back into the hands of the people closest to the students, the parents
and the schools. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Almost 20 years ago, Californians
overwhelmingly voted in favor of doing exactly the opposite, voting for a proposition which
required students who didn’t speak English fluently to be taught only in English. Most bilingual programs closed. A Silicon Valley software developer was the
architect of the successful English-only proposition back then. Ron Unz remains opposed today. You’re not a parent or a teacher or a researcher. How did this become your issue? RON UNZ, Chairman, English for the Children:
Well, I come from a little bit of an immigrant background myself, in that my mother was born
in Los Angeles, but grew up not speaking a word of English. She learned English very quickly and easily
when she started kindergarten. And that really was the same case with many
other people she knew. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Unz says learning English
quickly is key to assimilating in the U.S. RON UNZ: Bilingual education doesn’t work
now. It’s never worked in the past. And despite its advocates’ extremism ideological
commitment to that policy, it’s just totally unsuccessful. KAVITHA CARDOZA: California State Senator
Ricardo Lara agrees that learning English is key. He disagrees on how to get there. Among his five siblings, he and his sister
did well in an English-only environment. His other three siblings struggled, until
they switched to bilingual schools. Then they began to excel academically. RICARDO LARA (D), California State Senator:
Kids learn differently, and we all know that that’s a fact now. So why are we going to have a one cookie-cutter,
one-size-fits-all approach to learning English in California, which is one of the most diverse
states? KAVITHA CARDOZA: State senator Lara is sponsoring
Proposition 58, which will make it easier for local school districts to expand bilingual
education. He says it’s part of a broader cultural
shift in the past 20 years. Globalization has made knowing more than one
language a benefit, rather than a burden. Adelante Spanish Immersion School saw the
benefit 20 years ago. They managed to keep their bilingual programs
intact. Principal Christine Hiltbrand says much of
the demand is being driven by middle-class, educated parents. CHRISTINE HILTBRAND, Principal, Adelante Spanish
Immersion School: We had about 100 kids on the wait-list. And the district, because of that popularity,
has opened a second Spanish immersion school. And that’s full, too. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Their method is called dual-language
immersion. Half the student body speaks English at home,
half speak Spanish. In early years, children here spend most of
their time learning all their subjects in Spanish. Gradually more classes are taught in English,
until the fourth grade, when they spend exactly half the time in each language. Learning a second language was hard at first,
but Arianna Baca says it gets easier. ARIANNA BACA, 5th Grade Student: And then
I’m like, oh, so now it’s English time, and now I speak in English. And my brain just switches off. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Children say knowing two
languages is useful, even beyond school. ANDREW TINSON, 5th Grade Student: Sometimes,
I use Spanish when I go to, like, a market because, sometimes people at the market, they
speak Spanish. And, also, I went to Spain, and so everybody
there speaks Spanish, so it was very useful. MARVIN GARRIDO, 5th Grade Student: My mom
works cleaning houses, and sometimes she wants to, like, send messages to her boss to clean
the house. Sometimes, she wants me to help her to put
what to say and stuff like that. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Laurie Olsen is a bilingual
advocate. LAURIE OLSEN, Bilingual Education Advocate:
Proficiency in two or more languages is important. It’s a skill. It’s a high-level skill. We as a society need people who can be the
firefighters and the service providers and the doctors and the diplomats that have the
ability to speak across languages and communities. KAVITHA CARDOZA: There’s a broad coalition
in favor of giving school districts the option of bilingual education. But critics like Ron Unz remain unconvinced. RON UNZ: And I think it would be very ridiculous
for the state to consider moving back to the old Spanish almost-only system, or so-called
bilingual education. KAVITHA CARDOZA: He points out, after the
English-only proposition passed, test scores went up. But that’s only half the story. Though there was an initial bump, when researchers
followed these children over time, they found, by middle school, those in English-only classes
struggled, because it’s hard to keep up with, say, history or science if you don’t
fully understand what’s being said. Only those in bilingual classes continued
to do well in school. How does Adelante stack up? Student scores are seven points higher in
reading than the state average, and 13 points higher in math. And by fifth grade, children are fully bilingual. Patricia Gandara is a researcher with the
University of California Los Angeles. PATRICIA GANDARA, University of California
Los Angeles: Because we now know definitively that there are huge advantages, advantages
in employment, advantages — social advantages, psychological advantages. There are — and cognitive advantages. It just seems to me to be such a shame that
we are an immigrant country. We are blessed with this richness of languages. And to not take advantage of that, to not
let our kids have that opportunity seems to me just a tremendous waste, a tremendous waste
of resources. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Recent polling in California
suggests voters support more bilingual programs. Spiegel-Coleman says, 20 years ago, attitudes
were different. SHELLY SPIEGEL-COLEMAN: We would’ve gotten
dirty looks. We would’ve been insulted. People would have said things to us like,
that’s the Spanish-only program, they should be learning English. We didn’t get any of that today. KAVITHA CARDOZA: She’s hoping those changed
attitudes will translate into votes this November. For the “PBS NewsHour” and Education Week,
I’m Kavitha Cardoza reporting from San Francisco.

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