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Bilingual Ban Wins In Massachusetts, Fails In Colorado

English Immersion Plan Wins Over Bilingual Ed

By Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff

November 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Globe Newspaper Company. All rights reserved. 

Massachusetts voters last night overwhelmingly rejected bilingual education and replaced it with all-English classes, defying educators and politicians who had warned the contentious measure would spell disaster for thousands of students struggling to learn English.

Returns showed Question 2 winning with 70 percent of the vote, including victories in heavily minority communities such as Lawrence and Lynn. The ballot initiative calls for placing non-English speakers in English immersion classes for a year, with some exceptions.

Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to enact bilingual education 31 years ago, is now the latest one successfully targeted by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz. He financed similar measures that also passed in California and Arizona.

Yet even as Unz's supporters basked in their triumph, lawmakers vowed a top-to-bottom review of the ballot initiative. State Senator Robert A. Antonioni, cochairman of the Legislature's education committee, predicted ''potentially significant change,'' although he stopped short of calling for a repeal.

''I think people just saw this as a quick fix, and I don't think they ever got into the details of this plan,'' said Antonioni, a Leominster Democrat.

In Massachusetts, Unz galvanized a coalition of teachers, unions, immigrants' rights activists, and community groups to oppose him. The polarizing clash was often suffused with emotion, with bilingual proponents branding the measure racist, anti-immigrant, and educationally misguided. It ignited massive opposition from Latino voters, according to preliminary exit polls.

But Unz dismissed critics and stuck to his all-English message. Last night, about 25 supporters attended his party at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, eating fajitas and antipasti off a buffet table that sported two sombreros. Unz said he hopes a Massachusetts win will launch his crusade to a national level. ''I just wonder if there ever really was that much support for bilingual education in Massachusetts,'' Unz said.

Chart on results in 99 communities. B18.

Afterward, Lincoln Tamayo, chairman of Unz's local campaign, stood in a corner with supporters' arms around him and shed tears. ''We did what the politicians were not willing to do,'' said Tamayo, a Cuban immigrant and former principal of Chelsea High School.

Yesterday, opponents of Question 2 - who pounced on the measure's uncertain impact in California and its seizing of authority typically left to local schools - gathered at downtown bar Jose McIntyre's. The subdued crowd of about 20 ate beef and chicken skewers. But with returns showing a huge loss, campaign volunteers and staff began putting on their coats just after 10 p.m.

''We're going to continue to fight for the education of immigrant children ...'' said Daniel Navisky, spokesman for the Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers, the leading Unz opponents. ''Kids are not going to do as well as people expect, and it's going to cost taxpayers money.''

In Massachusetts bilingual classes, non-English speakers take subjects such as math or science in their native tongues while easing into English over months or years. About 30,000 students, or 3 percent of the Bay State's total K-12 enrollment, are in such programs. Other bilingual initiatives include popular ''two-way'' classes in which English- and non-English speakers learn each other's languages simultaneously.

Question 2 will probably eliminate most of these programs, placing bilingual students into immersion classes with all books, materials, and instruction in English. Teachers can use a ''minimal'' amount of a student's native language. Students also can get waivers if they are 10 or older, or if they have other academic needs. Teachers can be sued for ''willfully and repeatedly'' violating Question 2.

The Unz measure also trumps a bill signed in August that tightens bilingual programs and increases state oversight. The bill was touted as a less draconian alternative to the Unz measure.

Unz announced his plans to scrap bilingual education in Massachusetts in August 2001. At the same time he also launched a similar effort in Colorado, where voters yesterday were poised to defeat it.

In Massachusetts, Unz's opponents sponsored marches statewide and estimated immersion would cost the state as much as $125 million.

Yet media polls showed that Unz's slogan - ''English for the children'' - resonated with voters. Many said yesterday they had not heard of the specifics of Question 2 or of the Legislature's new bill. Instead, they saw the initiative in terms of immigrants' assimilation, not just bilingual education.

''They get all the benefits of living in this country. They should learn the language,'' said Isabelle Swartz, 87, of Marlborough.

Still, Question 2 also seemed to draw minority voters who had previously skipped elections - people like Luz Maria Lau, of Boston, a first-time voter opposed to Question 2.

''For some people it's really hard to study for all of their classes in English,'' said Lau, a native of Puerto Rico. ''It's unfair to force them.''

Bilingual Ban Fails

By Eric Hubler

November 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Denver Post. All rights reserved. 

Until Colorado, every place he tried to snuff bilingual education by ballot initiative, Ron Unz won by a landslide.

But Amendment 31, the Colorado version of the "English for the Children" initiatives Unz has been placing on state ballots since 1998, went down to defeat Tuesday night.

"That is good news," said Denver schools chief Jerry Wartgow.

Wartgow and the Denver school board asked voters to reject the measure, which would have banned native-language support for immigrant pupils and mandated one year of English immersion.

"I'm proud of the Colorado voters for being educated and learning about the flawed details in this amendment," said Wendy DeBell, president of the Cherry Creek school board. "This would have left many children behind because nine months is not adequate time for most kids to learn English."

Amendment 31 started with a commanding lead in polls. At first it looked like the outcome would be a repeat of California in 1998 and Arizona in 2000, where similar initiatives won easily.

A fourth such measure, in Massachusetts, won by nearly 2-to-1 Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

But Unz's opponents in Colorado had something their counterparts in the other states didn't: an angry heiress. Pat Stryker, whose daughter attends a public dual-language school in Fort Collins, gave $3 million to English Plus, the group formed to fight the amendment.

Stryker is the granddaughter of Homer Stryker, founder of Michigan medical-equipment company Stryker Corp.

The campaign used the gift to place TV ads claiming the amendment would cost school districts tens of millions of dollars a year to implement. That claim turned out to be based on an erroneous article in a Boulder newspaper, but English Plus let the ad run for a day after admitting the error to The Denver Post.

"What they did was go to the voters and lie to them and tell them we were going to raise their taxes," said Rita Montero, Unz's Colorado coordinator.

The Stryker-financed ads brought a dramatic change of fortune for Amendment 31. As opinion polls showed voters turning against the measure, Unz and Montero started using words such as "liars," "vampires" and "racists" to describe their opponents.

A pro-amendment radio ad with former Gov. Dick Lamm may have brought some voters back. Lamm said he felt badly about supporting bilingual education decades ago and would vote for Amendment 31 to atone.

But Lamm also told The Post he would feel badly about one of the amendment's effects: making it harder for Spanish-speaking parents to send their children to dual-language schools like the one Stryker's daughter attends.

Lamm said he likes dual-language schools, and that if the amendment passed, he would work to help them overcome provisions of Amendment 31 that educators said would prevent them from enrolling Spanish speakers.

School districts, elected officials and candidates of all parties asked voters to reject the amendment. They said that even if other states bungled bilingual education, Colorado figured out years ago that local districts know local families' needs best.

Most Colorado districts already use immersion-like techniques with English learners, they said.

"It would have just complicated our situation and cost us more money to do the very thing we're already doing," said Littleton Superintendent Stan Scheer.

Montero accused opponents of only wanting to preserve their jobs. "Their whole campaign was about defending teachers, and it wasn't about kids," she said.

But Denver's Wartgow said his district is making honest efforts to improve how it serves immigrants, particularly Hispanics, who have higher dropout rates and lower test scores than other groups.

"We've said all along that we share the underlying goal of Amendment 31, and that's to teach English to those who come to us speaking other languages, and we'll continue to sharpen that program within our district," Wartgow said.

Unz said his Massachusetts win will make lawmakers take note. "I really hope in the very near future Congress will take a look at this issue," he said.

Montero said that if educators persist in using Spanish in classrooms, "they'll be in a lot of trouble again."

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