- San Jose Mercury News
Monday, August 23, 1999
- Ron Unz ponders N.Y. Bilingual fight
BY JOHN TIERNEY
New York Times
NEW YORK -- After leading the revolt against bilingual education in California, Palo Alto
businessman Ron Unz would like to see one in New York City. Unz, a software millionaire
who successfully promoted Proposition 227 last year, believes that New Yorkers are
even more determined than Californians to see their children educated in English.
``The poll numbers in New York are stronger than just about any other place I've
looked,'' said Unz, chairman of a group called English for the Children. ``We're seriously
exploring the possibility of putting a measure like Proposition 227 on the ballot in New
York City.'' He is considering sponsoring a petition drive to urge a referendum on an
amendment to the city charter.
Unz tested the local sentiment for a version of Proposition 227 by commissioning a poll
asking whether all public school classes should be taught in English, with non-English
speaking students placed in an intensive one-year English immersion program (instead
of the native-language classes now offered in bilingual education programs). Of the
1,411 residents of New York state polled by Zogby International, 79 percent said yes.
Among New York City residents, 75 percent said yes.
The poll results may seem strange amid the popular impression that New York's many
immigrants are clamoring for bilingual education. In fact, immigrants generally want
English. In a national poll by Public Agenda, a non-partisan research organization, 75
percent of foreign-born parents said the schools' priority should be to teach English
quickly, even if their children fall behind in other subjects.
Bilingual programs, begun as an experiment in the 1960s, proliferated thanks to
federal money and orders from bureaucrats and judges. With bilingual teachers and
theorists comfortably entrenched, the programs persisted even as parents and
researchers concluded that they didn't work. Instead of students gradually learning
English and switching to mainstream classes -- the goal of bilingual education -- they
remained trapped year after year in native-language classes.
Latino parents at a school in Los Angeles got so frustrated in 1996 that they started a
boycott, demanding that their children learn English. The protest led to Proposition 227,
which leading politicians, most major newspapers and the educational establishment
Buoyed by the results, Unz's group is supporting changes elsewhere.
Unz was not surprised at the breakdown of his poll. Bilingual education was opposed by
73 percent of the respondents in Brooklyn, 75 percent in Queens, 84 percent in the
Bronx, and 85 percent in Staten Island. The least opposition, 68 percent, was in
``A lot of liberal intellectuals in Manhattan probably support bilingual education for
ideological reasons,'' Unz said. ``If it were their own kids, they'd be fighting to get them
into English classes.''
- ©1999 Mercury Center