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Michelle Steel

Placing Politics Before Our Children

OC Supervisor Michelle Steel

Using deceptive language Sacramento politicians are trying to push an initiative that would threaten our children’s future. While most of us are interested in improving the lives of our children, politicians in Sacramento are playing politics by overturning a previous initiative that would disrupt their education and hurt their chances for success.

Under the illusion of helping students Senator Ricardo Lara, author of proposition 58, wants Californians to waste tax dollars and essential learning time by allowing alternative programs to replace the English-only classrooms. Replacing them with bilingual courses that would make it harder for students to learn English and reach their goals.

To help persuade voters, politicians are using the misleading title of “English proficiency” in order to gain support for their initiative. However, these changes would actually allow for “English Language Learners” (ELL) to go for years without being taught in English.

Californians in 1998 understood how important it is for students to learn English as quickly as possible and designed the education system to do so. We passed proposition 227 so that our schools could teach non-native speakers in English-only immersion classes and provide an opportunity for students to master the language.
English immersion has been proven to lead to a faster proficiency in the language than being in a bilingual environment that can further delay the learning process. Research studies show that English immersion and Sheltered English programs performed better than bilingual ones. Something I can personally attest to, having promptly learned two additional languages this way.

I was born in Korea and raised in Japan, English is my third language. When I immigrated to the United States I had to get to work to pay for college. So I understand the importance not only of learning to be proficient in English but also of doing so as quickly as possible. I had the opportunity to learn Korean, Japanese, and English while completely immersed in those languages, and that has been a tremendous help.

The rules created by Proposition 227 ensure that new-English speakers in our schools have the greatest opportunity to be fully immersed in English and to learn it quickly. Proposition 58 will take that away. Under Proposition 58, students will once again have the option to take classes in their native language. This will make it easier for those students to get by without English proficiency and much harder for them to get jobs or go on to college after graduation.

A Large portion of the population in California would be set up for failure if Proposition 58 were to pass. Previous to the passing of Proposition 227, many parents understood the necessity of being proficient in English to the point where they would lie to ensure their children were put into English-only courses instead of bilingual ones.

1.4 million Students in California are considered to be ELL, which is 23 percent of the k-12 population in California, the overwhelming majority of which speak Spanish. A few years following the implementation of prop 227, the results of the California English Language Development Test showed that only 4 percent of the students in grades k-12 whose primary language was Spanish performed at an “advanced level” and only 19 percent qualified as “early advanced”. Today the number of students performing at an “advanced level” has doubled to 8 percent and 31 percent are considered as “early advanced”.

We also have to consider the cost these new programs, including dual-language immersion classes, would entail. According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the number of bilingual teachers in California is dropping. The type of programs prop 58 creates would require not only a high number of bilingual teachers, but teachers who are qualified to be proficient in other languages. The cost to increase this short supply would be substantial. Not to mention the teachers for current programs in use today have acknowledged the increased need to provide support not only for teachers to keep their proficiency up for these second languages, but the need for some type of supplied help for students at home.

I have great hope in our future generations and I believe in providing them with the best resources possible to be successful. Providing a crutch for these students does nothing to help them in the long run. Making English proficiency a priority will help to give these students the best chance at success no matter what path they choose in life.

Michelle Steel serves as Vice Chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.