Original URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/10242002/politics/1178.htm

Question targets bilingual education
Daily Hampshire Gazette. Oct. 24, 2002
By RYAN DAVIS, Staff Writer

Question 2 on November's ballot is a binding question that seeks to ban bilingual education in Massachusetts. In bilingual education classrooms, children whose first language is not English are taught some lessons in their native language (usually Spanish) while they are learning English.

What does a yes vote mean?

A yes vote on Question 2 would eliminate bilingual education programs in Massachusetts, with limited exceptions.

What does a no vote mean?

A no vote would make no changes to the current law.

What happens if the question passes?

If Question 2 passes, it will make most bilingual education illegal and replace bilingual programs in the state with "sheltered English immersion" programs. In such programs, non-native English speakers would be placed in a classroom with other English learners and taught exclusively in English.

The initiative mandates that immersion programs are "not normally intended to exceed one year," after which students would be mainstreamed into regular classrooms.

Approving the measure would also enact provisions to punish teachers and administrators who "willfully and repeatedly" disobey the English-only law. Teachers who continue to use a child's native language could be sued, fired and barred from teaching for five years if parents were to decide that their child's ability to learn English was hindered by a teacher's use of the child's native language.

Can the Legislature or governor decide to ignore or delay the impact of the question?

No. If Question 2 passes, it will take effect as soon as the results of the vote are made official. However, as with any law, the Legislature will have the ability to amend portions of it after it has been put in place.

What are the key arguments used by supporters?

Supporters of Question 2 argue that bilingual education programs hurt immigrant students by allowing them to speak their native language, thus hindering their ability to learn English. They argue that placing students in English immersion will increase test scores and will result in more children learning English.

Who are the major supporters?

Question 2 is supported mainly by a group called English for the Children, which was founded by California software developer Ronald Unz and has branches in the states where he has gotten initiatives on the ballot. Gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney is a strong supporter of English immersion programs, though he has said he opposes the punative feature of Question 2 that exposes teachers to liability if they violate the law.

What are the key arguments used by opponents?

Opponents of Question 2 claim that supporters misrepresent the intent of bilingual education. They describe bilingual education as an effective system of teaching students English, not a way of avoiding or delaying English instruction, as supporters sometimes claim.

Morever, opponents say that requiring all non-native speakers to be placed in English-immersion classrooms will result in fewer children learning English, as such a system does not allow enough time to learn English and does not take individual differences into account.

Finally, opponents view the stipulation that teachers can be sued and fired for teaching students in their native language as unnecessarily harsh and hurtful.

Who are the major opponents?

Question 2 is opposed by nearly 100 state elected officials and organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Massachusetts Teacher's Association, U.S. Representatives Barney Frank, Edward Markey and John Olver, and gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien.

The Northampton and Amherst school committees, State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, State Reps. Ellen Story, Stephen Kulik and Peter Kocot also are on record as opposing Question 2.

The Boston-based group organizing against the measure is called Fairness to Children and Teachers.

Ryan Davis can be reached at rdavis@gazettenet.com.


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