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Proposition 227, 13 Years Later

It's been 13 years since California voters approved Proposition 227, the ballot initiative that limited bilingual education in that state's public schools. Since then, school districts in the state with the nation's largest population of English-language learners have been using a mishmash of approaches to teach English, but most have adopted English immersion.

In a new package of stories from the Hechinger Report, reporter Sarah Garland finds that the achievement trajectory for ELLs since the passage of Prop. 227 presents a very mixed picture. While ELLs' scores on state exams have improved markedly, their achievement has slipped in 4th grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

So what conclusions can be drawn about the impacts of Prop. 227?

According to a former California principal turned researcher interviewed by Garland for one of her stories, bilingual programs weren't working before they were all but banned and English immersion hasn't worked either. From Garland's piece:

Bilingual education in California never worked, said Linda Espinosa, a former principal in a bilingual school in California and a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher who now works as a consultant for the California Department of Education. "The children never became proficient in English, and they tended to lose their home language," she said. But the English-immersion system is not working either, she said.

In the same story, Garland highlights a third approach—dual language—to teaching English that has been successful in one elementary school in the Los Angeles area where most students are ELLs and low income. There, where native English speakers and English-language learners together receive instruction in English and Spanish (the majority of instruction occurs in Spanish and diminishes gradually until 5th grade, when instruction is 50 percent in Spanish and 50 percent in English), schoolwide achievement now exceeds the goals set by the state for all schools.

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