Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/279/metro/Bilingual_ed_forces_waging_uphill_fight+.shtml

Bilingual ed forces waging uphill fight.

By Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff, 10/6/2002

 Surrounded in their office by marked-up maps, laptops, and crinkled news clippings, opponents of Question 2 seem primed for the battle to maintain bilingual education in Massachusetts. They enjoy the powerful support of labor  unions and much of the Bay State's political establishment, and the strategists of national campaigns, including Al Gore's presidential run.

But will that collective muscle be enough to topple Ron Unz - their wealthy California adversary whose crusade to end bilingual education has rolled to easy victories in two states?

Trailing in the polls with about four weeks before the Nov. 5 election, the pro-bilingual Committee
for Fairness to Children and Teachers, or FACT, has launched the crucial stages of what many political analysts say is an uphill struggle against a man with both money and an appealing message. In California and Arizona, where voters handily approved measures replacing bilingual education with English immersion, Unz defied the traditional political machinery of field organization: advertisements, voter outreach, and emotion-packed rallies featuring children and parents.

With the fight now in Massachusetts, Unz's opponents are deploying those same tactics, as well as others - and hoping for better results.

''People who support the Unz initiative do so because they think it's in the best interest of kids, and our message is that it's not,'' FACT campaign manager Owen Eagan said. ''I don't think this initiative enjoys deep support. Everyone is for teaching kids English. It's just a matter of what is the most effective way to do that.''

Unz's reponse: ''I could spout their arguments better than they can. It's almost word-for-word, event-for-event what happened in California and Arizona. It's eerily similar.''

The simplicity of Unz's message - ''English for the Children'' - carried it to victory in those two states despite their substantial minority populations. One challenge for FACT: Many in those communities can't or don't vote. And publicizing the consequences of Question 2, such as the option to sue teachers, requires more explanation than can fit on a bumper sticker.

''The question is, can they overcome the fundamental wording of the referendum, which is so innocuous as to be difficult for anybody to say no to?'' asked Lou DiNatale, a political analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. ''I think they will make it tighter. The question is, can they win?''

Bilingual programs let non-English students learn in their native tongues and ease into courses where English is spoken. Almost all education research shows that such transitional methods work - if done well. But opponents, citing low test scores of limited-English students, say the better way is to teach them English from day one.

A new law lets Massachusetts school districts choose their own way of educating the state's 39,000 bilingual students, in exchange for stricter state oversight. Legislators approved it this summer, hoping it will deflect Question 2, which would place students in English immersion classes intended to last a year, with some exceptions.

The two sides of the issue have sharply different styles and approaches.

FACT has a paid staff of five and is getting advice from political consultant Charles Glick and Doug Hattaway, spokesman for Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. It has banners, buttons, signs, and phone banks. It has held rallies on the State House steps, sponsored demonstrations on the first day of school, and attended meetings of grass-roots groups that are joining the fight.

At a small rally last week sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Glick called Question 2 unfair to new arrivals in the United States. It resonated with Litzania Garcia, who came to Boston 14 years ago from Venezuela.

''Every immigrant has the right to have two languages,'' Garcia, 38, of Chelsea said. ''You can put small kids in English because they learn quickly. But its very unfair for people coming to this country who are older kids.''

By contrast, Unz's Massachusetts campaign has just one paid staffer: Lincoln Tamayo, a former principal of Chelsea High School who runs the local campaign out of his Hamilton home. It is also working with Christine H. Rossell, a Boston University political science professor who has studied bilingual programs, and Rosalie Pedalino Porter, a consultant who formerly directed bilingual education in Newton public schools.

Unz flies across the country raising money and touting his initiative; a similar one will be on the November ballot in Colorado. One Massachusetts donor, Raymond S. Stata, founder of Analog Devices of Norwood, gave the campaign $40,000 without having met Unz personally. Stata said he believes in Unz's message of English immersion.

The most recent finance reports show that Unz's campaign has only about $5,700 on hand, while FACT has about $31,000.

Nevertheless, Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire, is breezily confident, distributing press clippings and charts of his take on California's test scores under English immersion - some of which are the same ones that his opponents use, with opposite interpretations. Proposition 227 in California won 61 percent of the vote.

Unz and Tamayo say they will match whatever television and radio advertising their opponents buy. But they eschew the pep rallies, preferring debates, media interviews, and low-key addresses to political groups.

At a Brandeis University forum last week, Porter sat on a panel with bilingual proponents and talked to college students, most of whom weren't registered to vote in Massachusetts. But she didn't mince words.

''These programs tend to segregate children by language and ethnicity for several years,'' she said. ''They do not necessarily result in better academic performance. Delaying the real learning of English for several years makes it that much harder.''

FACT is solidifying part of its base by aggressively courting minority communities and immigrants' rights groups. But if California's Proposition 227 is any guide, bilingual proponents will have to cast a far wider net, some say.

Luis R. Fraga, an associate professor of political science at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., said the dominance of white voters helped Proposition 227. Exit polls showed that 67 percent of white voters supported it. An almost identical percentage of Latino voters voted against the measure - but Latinos made up only 14 percent of registered voters then, while whites comprised 71 percent, Fraga

''Within white voters, they've got to identify who the key supporters are and find out what types of arguments are likely to appeal to those voters,'' Fraga said.

Eagan said the campaign is targeting moderate white voters, a large part of the electorate, and trying to force others to pay attention by getting the two major gubernatorial candidates to speak on the issue. Republican Mitt Romney supports the initiative, while Democrat Shannon O'Brien opposes it.

Still, Maria S. Quezada, executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Education, warns that Unz's message can resonate easier than people realize.

''He knows the formula,'' Quezada said. ''He has the money and the power and the media.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/6/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.