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Vote No On Two

Stephanie W. Wang

“Paige, a black former football coach, is believed to have obtained his job largely due to George W. Bush’s intense support for ‘Affirmative Access,’ and is widely regarded as the dimmest member of the Bush Cabinet.” This is the latest bigoted statement made by Ron Unz, the California millionaire businessman behind Question Two on the Massachusetts ballot which is modeled after Proposition 227 passed in 1998 in California, also initiated by him. In another statement, Unz proceeded to berate the Massachusetts populace, of which he is not a member, for not supporting the anti-gay marriage amendment to the constitution as well as the initiative calling an end to state income tax. The initiative to rid state public education systems of bilingual education is his most potentially damaging statement of ignorance and bigotry.

Ballot initiative two seeks to replace the current law that provides transitional bilingual education in public schools with a law that dictates “all children in Massachusetts public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms” with very few exceptions. English learners would be placed in an English immersion program, usually for a maximum of one year, where all books and almost all teaching would be in English with the teachers using a minimal amount of a student’s native language when deemed absolutely necessary. From then on, the students would be placed in mainstream classrooms theoretically well on their way to reaching fluency.

Furthermore, if this initiative passes, teachers can be sued for speaking to a non-English student in her native language, regardless of motivations for doing so. In fact, “any school district employee, school committee member or other elected official or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to implement the terms of this chapter may be held personally liable for reasonable attorney’s fees, costs and compensatory damages by the child’s parents or legal guardian.” Even more outrageous is the provision that “any individual found so liable shall be barred from employment in any public school district for a period of five years.”

Almost no one would argue about the importance of learning English or getting a good education in this country, but does this initiative provide for the best mechanism to do so? The answer is a resounding no. Empirically, the California Standard Nine test scores show that the English immersion program there, like the one proposed in Question Two, is failing miserably. Not only have the immersed students not gained fluency at the end of one year as theorized by the Unz supporters, the gap in performance on all subjects are widening between native English speakers and English learners. Instead of the “90 percent reduction in the number of non-English speaking children in California’s school system within one or two years” that was supposed to take place, less than 10 percent are designated as fluent enough each year to go to mainstream classes.

Should the Massachusetts education system be subjugated to the will of a man with no experience in education policy and no ties to Massachusetts, an extremist who is obviously pushing a political agenda that includes racism, classism, and homophobia? Could this California businessman possibly have had the interests of Massachusetts children in mind when he formulated such a reactionary, uninformed initiative that hurts their education? Should educators be forced to do what they don’t believe is the best for their students under the fear of punishment by law? If you answer no to these questions, please answer no to Question Two when you vote today.