- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

A federal appeals court has ruled that California voters acted constitutionally when they scrapped bilingual education and ordered that children be "taught English by being taught in English."
"The record contains no evidence that Proposition 227 was motivated by racial animus," the three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday.
The appeals court ruled that the 1998 voter initiative was an educational issue intended to change "a pedagogically flawed educational system" the 30-year practice of bilingual instruction and was not an effort to discriminate against Hispanics, who make up 41 percent of California's student body and 82 percent of its "limited English proficient students."
"We are overjoyed that the court has recognized Proposition 227 as the lawful, nondiscriminatory solution to a broken-down system that provided nothing more than a disservice to California's English-learning students," said Sharon Browne, attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation whose nominal client was Sarina Frias, a parent of a student.
The practice of teaching in English instead of the student's native language approved by 61 percent to 39 percent in the June 2, 1998, election was attacked in federal court by a coalition led by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
The Los Angeles spokeswoman authorized to speak about MALDEF's intentions to appeal further did not respond yesterday to calls or issue a comment on the ruling, but the organization told California reporters it had not decided a course of action.
The Pacific Legal Foundation said Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, asked it to defend the new law and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis sought to exclude the foundation from the case when he succeeded Mr. Wilson.
The state constitutional amendment was approved in a U.S. District Court trial and affirmed in Monday's opinion written by Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima, a 1995 President Clinton appointee. Voting with Judge Tashima were Senior Circuit Judge Procter Hug Jr., a 1977 President Carter appointee, and U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick, a 1992 President Bush nominee.
Despite opposition from organized Hispanic groups, many California Latinos supported Proposition 227 in a movement led by Hiram Johnson High School math teacher Jaime Escalante, who was made famous by the 1987 movie "Stand and Deliver."
A Los Angeles poll before the vote showed the initiative, named "English for the Children," was supported by 84 percent of California Latino voters and 80 percent of non-Hispanic white voters.
Activist Linda Chavez called the program "a whopping success," a conclusion supported by official exam scores.
Beginning in the 1998-99 school year immediately after the vote, elementary test scores rose significantly more in schools that adopted English-only instruction than at those that got waivers to retain bilingual instruction.
From 1998 to 2001, the official statewide STAR testing of second-graders showed a steady upward trend of scores in spelling, language, reading and math for children in English-immersion programs.
The percentage of Latino students in the top half of the statewide grade scores in spelling almost doubled from 21 percent to 39 percent; in reading 35 percent were in the top half, up from 21 percent; and math standing rose 19 points with 47 percent of students exceeding the 50th percentile.
"Latino youngsters are not only learning English more quickly, their test scores in other subjects have improved as well, going up by double digits in some cases each year since English immersion replaced bilingual education," Miss Chavez said.
The immersion program provides a year of intense English instruction for the youngest students before they study other subjects in English. Exemptions are permitted for some older students, for those accomplished in English and for any who encounter physical or emotional difficulties.
While 57 languages are spoken by California students, opponents of the law contend the inordinate effect on Hispanics violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.
They also attacked a provision that bars local exceptions by allowing changes only by statewide vote, or action by two-thirds of the state Assembly and Senate.
They argued the program's uniquely racial focus violated the U.S. Constitution, in effect because it benefits the group they represent, a claim the appeals court said was a "novel interpretation" of Supreme Court decisions.
"This measure is about equality. Parents want a results-oriented program that provides the best education possible for their children and all of California's students," said Miss Browne of the Pacific Legal Foundation.


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