Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unz/Tuchman ... Dismantling CA Billingual Education

By Cynthia Camacho

The Unz/Tuchman initiative was a thinly veiled attempt to deprive future generations of non-English speaking students of their opportunity to be educated to the same level as their English speaking cohorts. For some reason, this initiative promoted the theory that an educational format which mandates that "all children in California public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English" would prove to be an effective platform for learning. It should have been very clear that this plan would deprive individuals of the equal rights granted to all students in the United States to receive a solid and sound education. The aspiration of many bilingual immigrants is to find a way to succeed and to become affluent in this land of opportunity. An important component of success for many is their educational background. The more learned that they can be with scholarly trends, and more they can capture intellectual wealth, the greater their chance for upward mobility in our society. Unfortunately, thanks to thinking like that contained within Unz/Tuchman, dreams can be easily shattered as under-paid educators and unfair governmental policies deny certain members of our society an equal opportunity. This can extend even deeper into the roots of a culture leaving the children of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants to feel negated. This happens as the result of educators and policies that do not allow students to be educated in their primary language.


Only when taught initially in their primary language, can individuals grasp the values and many meanings associated with learning English as a second language. To spend one year teaching limited English proficient (LEP) students in their primary language, as recommended by Unz/Tuchman, and to then cut them loose to fall through the cracks of our English centric educational system was a very ill conceived and potentially harmful plan. Once on this track, students who do not meet the predetermined levels of proficiency in later grades are left hanging from a branch with no net in place to catch them. A large scale study of 2000 children in 5 states and 9 school districts reported that only 4% of students who moved from a bilingual classroom to an English only classroom were able to equal the scores of their native English speaking cohorts. Furthermore, the same study showed that 67% of the students who spent 4 years in the bilingual education programs were able to match the scores of their native English speaking peers.


By studying immigration, societies, and civilizations, we have learned that it is the colonizing powers who usually implement their laws and governance over the natives by using force, brutality, and other means of subordination often have deep seeded prejudices and sometimes even laws that are meant to keep the “others” in their determined place. In the case of Unz/Tuchman, it seems clear that if the goal of the state is to keep immigrants and LEP students at their current place in society, then the initiative is a very good place to start. Simply move the students through the programs with very minimal bilingual education, and then drop them into the mainstream educational system where only the very brightest 25% will have a chance to overcome the odds and match the results of the “English speaking elite” by the time they reach 6th grade. Even within this statistic of 25%, I have to wonder how many truly gifted and bright Non-English speaking children never achieve their full potential because so much effort in their early formative years was spent simply trying to catch up.


In a further effort to isolate and repress the non English speaking students, Utz/Tuchman proposed to place students of different ages into the same classrooms based on their current level of English proficiency. This was clearly an attempt to segregate these students from the mainstream English speakers. In addition to the academic challenges of appropriate levels of curriculum that this would have posed, the social implications are profound. It would almost be like these classrooms would become places to send the kids who teachers and administrators wanted to “get out of the way” and avoid the integration that brings so much value for all students in their experience with life and their understanding of the richness of diversity. In direct conflict to this approach, linguistic research is clear in its assertion that students do not primarily learn English from their parents and other adults, but rather they learn it from their peers. So separating them from English speaking peers will likely even further damage their progress both in school and in their social lives. One of the most interesting paradoxes to me after reading this article was how the Utz/Tuchman initiative attempted to characterize bilingual education as segregationist. This was the very outcome that they subscribed when they attempted to place students in the same classrooms regardless of age. The outcome was so obvious to anyone who took an objective perspective, yet the proponents of the initiative tried to position it as beneficial to the bilingual students vs. detrimental.


In an attempt to gain voter support for the initiative, Utz/Tuchman also proposed that the current bilingual education funding in California ($500M) at the time of the proposal, would be diverted to adult language education and even to individual parents or community members who pledged to provide English language tutoring to LEP children. This part of the initiative continues the pattern of wrong thinking throughout the rest of the plan. That $500M which is currently focused and directed to schools who are providing both professional teachers, and instructional materials to support the learning of English to LEP students, should now be loosely given out to members of the community based on pledges to help students in their spare time is a gross misuse of the taxpayers money. This type of program, funded by this much money, opens up a significant probability that both greed and corruption will follow soon after. Utz/Tuchman could have at least justified some of their actions as fiscally responsible by offering to return these monies to the taxpayer in the form of cuts or reductions in new taxes, but instead the proposal to divert the monies to other programs makes their initiative that much more confounding and confusing.

In summary, Utz/Tuchman was an initiative that was clearly positioned to dismantle and take apart the functioning bilingual education programs in California, and instead of replacing them with a better program, the goal was to slow down the progress of bilingual students and limit their ability to compete with mainstream English students. In direct conflict with both US and California laws, and with the research and learning methods that proved the effectiveness of current bilingual education programs, this initiative was ill conceived and doomed to fail from the start.
Other Interesting Links:
Spanish Language Immersion for Non Spanish Speakers

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