Blog: Latino Ed Beat

A Vote ‘Yes’ for Bilingual Education in California

Advocates of bilingual education got a big win in California Tuesday, when an overwhelming majority of the electorate voted to end the state’s longstanding English-only approach to educating English-language learners. 

The Los Angeles Times reports

Supporters of the measure lauded its approval, saying the bureaucratic red tape around multilingual education is harmful to students in a global economy, where the most sought-after employees speak more than one language.

But opponents of the measure, most notably Silicon Valley multimillionaire Ron Unz, who wrote the original English-only Proposition 227, have said the new law would be a return to the problems of the past, when bilingual programs were failing to teach Spanish-speaking students English.

California enacted Proposition 227 in the late 1990s, dictating that schools use English-language immersion to educate students who are not proficient English speakers rather than dual-language programs, which educate students in English and a partner language. 

But public opinion has since shifted in the state with the most English-language learners, and Tuesday’s “yes” vote came as no surprise to many. In the decades since Proposition 227 passed, parent waivers have made it possible for dual-language programs to grow in popularity across the state. (The Los Angeles Unified School District alone added nine more programs this school year.) In 2011, California actually became the first state to adopt a statewide Seal of Biliteracy — an award given to high school graduates who are bilingual and biliterate.

The new law will eliminate the need for waivers and give school districts flexibility to decide how best to educate students who are learning English.