2002 Information For Voters

QUESTION 2: Law Proposed by Initiative Petition

English Language Education in Public Schools

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 1, 2002?

SUMMARY

As required by law, summaries are written by the state Attorney General, and the statements describing the effect of a "yes" or "no" vote are written jointly by the State Attorney General and the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

This proposed law would replace the current state law providing for transitional bilingual education in public schools with a law requiring that, with limited exceptions, all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being placed in English language classrooms.

The proposed law would require public schools to educate English learners (children who cannot do ordinary classwork in English and who either do not speak English or whose native language is not English) through a sheltered English immersion program, normally not lasting more than one year. In the program, all books and nearly all teaching would be in English, with the curriculum designed for children learning English, although a teacher could use a minimal amount of a child’s native language when necessary. Schools would be encouraged to place in the same classroom children who are from different native-language groups but who have the same level of English skills. Once a student is able to do regular schoolwork in English, the student would be transferred to an English language mainstream classroom. These requirements would not affect special education programs for physically or mentally impaired students or foreign language classes for children who already know English.

Parents or guardians of certain children could apply each year to have the requirements waived, so as to place their child in bilingual education or other classes, if the parents or guardians visit the school to be informed, in a language they can understand, about all available options. To obtain a waiver, the child must either (1) already know English; or (2) be at least 10 years old, and the school principal and staff believe that another course of study would be better for the child’s educational progress and rapid learning of English; or (3) have special physical or psychological needs (other than lack of English skills), have already spent 30 days in an English language classroom during that school year, the school principal and staff document their belief that the child’s special needs make another course of study better for the child’s educational progress and rapid learning of English, and the school superintendent approves the waiver. If 20 or more students in one grade level at a school receive waivers, the school would have to offer either bilingual education classes providing instruction in both the student’s native language and English or classes using other generally recognized educational methodologies permitted by law. In other cases, a student receiving a waiver would have to be allowed to transfer to a school offering such classes.

A parent or guardian could sue to enforce the proposed law and, if successful, would receive attorney’s fees, costs and compensatory money damages. Any school employee, school committee member or other elected official or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refused to implement the proposed law could be personally ordered to pay such fees, costs, and damages; could not be reimbursed for that payment by any public or private party; and could not be elected to a school committee or employed in the public schools for 5 years. Parents or guardians of a child who received a waiver based on special needs could sue if, before the child reaches age 18, they discover that the application for a waiver was induced by fraud or intentional misrepresentation and injured the child’s education.

All English learners in grades kindergarten and up would take annual standardized tests of English skills. All English learners in grades 2 and up would take annual written standardized tests, in English, of academic subjects. Severely learning disabled students could be exempted from the tests. Individual scores would be released only to parents, but aggregate scores, school and school district rankings, the number of English learners in each school and district, and related data would be made public.

The proposed law would provide, subject to the state Legislature’s appropriation, $5 million each year for 10 years for school committees to provide free or low-cost English language instruction to adults who pledged to tutor English learners.

The proposed law would replace the current law, under which a school committee must establish a transitional bilingual education program for any 20 or more enrolled children of the same language group who cannot do ordinary classwork in English and whose native language is not English or whose parents do not speak English. In that program, schools must teach all required courses in both English and the child’s native language; teach both the native language and English; and teach the history and culture of both the native land of the child’s parents and the United States. Teaching of non-required subjects may be in a language other than English, and for subjects where verbalization is not essential (such as art or music), the child must participate in regular classes with English-speaking students.

Under the current law, a child stays in the program for 3 years or until the child can perform successfully in English-only classes, whichever occurs first. A test of the child’s English skills is given each year. A school committee may not transfer a child out of the program before the third year unless the parents approve and the child has received an English-skills test score appropriate to the child’s grade level. A child may stay in the program longer than 3 years if the school committee and the parent or guardian approve. Parents must be informed of their child’s enrollment in the program and have the right to withdraw their child from the program.
The proposed law’s testing requirements would take effect immediately, and its other requirements would govern all school years beginning after the proposed law’s effective date. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

WHAT YOUR VOTE WILL DO

A YES VOTE would require that, with limited exceptions, all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being placed in
English language classrooms.

A NO VOTE would make no changes in English language education in public schools.

See full text of Question 2

ARGUMENTS

As provided by law, the 150-word arguments are written by proponents and opponents of each question, and reflect their opinions. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not endorse these arguments, and does not certify the truth or accuracy of any statement made in these arguments. The names of the individuals and organizations who wrote each argument, and any written comments by others about each argument, are on file in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

In Favor: Your yes vote will require that all children in Massachusetts be taught in English as soon as they enter school.

  • For the last thirty years, state law has required that immigrant students be segregated into native language classrooms, often for many years. Many of these students never learn to read English, write English, or even speak English. As a result, they are denied the same opportunities for success as children born here.
  • “Bilingual education” has been a failed experiment, but bilingual education teachers and administrators, as well as our legislators, have refused to admit this disastrous failure and have defended this system, destroying the lives of countless immigrant students.
  • Under our measure, children who don’t know English will be placed in an intensive sheltered English immersion program, teaching them English as quickly as possible. Once they learn English, they will be enrolled in regular classes.

If you agree, vote yes.

Authored by:
English for the Children of Massachusetts
10 Burnham Road
Wenham, Massachusetts 01984
978-468-9681


Against: If passed, this law would allow teachers to be personally sued for using a child’s native language to help them learn. Teachers should focus on teaching kids English, not worrying about being sued for helping a child learn.

The law says: “The parent or legal guardian of any school child shall have legal standing to sue for enforcement of the provisions of this chapter, and if successful shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees, costs, and compensatory damages.”

Children need to learn English in a reasonable period of time, but the system mandated by this measure has failed in California, where immigrant children stay in separate classes longer than they currently do in Massachusetts, and it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars that we can’t afford.

Teach kids English. Don’t sue teachers. Vote no.

Authored by:
Tim Duncan, Chairman
Committee for Fairness to Children & Teachers
P.O. Box 120-0089
Boston, MA 02112-0089
617-423-1177

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Majority Report

It is the unanimous opinion of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities to oppose and reject this initiative petition.

THIS PETITION PROVIDES AN INFLEXIBLE AND OVERLY SIMPLISTIC APPROACH. By requiring one single approach to teaching English to all limited English speaking students, the supporters of this initiative petition would falsely lead the public to believe that these students enter the classroom with the same needs. In fact, children arrive in the Commonwealth at different ages, with different backgrounds, with different levels of education and English proficiency. Some come to our shores from war torn countries, others come from stable, well-educated households; some are literate in their native language and may even know some English; others may be totally illiterate. Yet this petition mandates a single approach to address all of these needs.
THERE IS MORE THAN ONE PROVEN METHOD TO TEACH ENGLISH. This petition ignores the fact that there is more than one successful approach to effectively teach English to limited English speaking students. This initiative mandates a single approach for all students. Education reform has taught us that students have different educational needs and learn in different ways.

THIS PETITION REPEATS THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST BY NOT ALLOWING CHOICE BY YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS. The current law mandates a single approach to teach English to limited English speaking students: transitional bilingual education. The petition replaces that with yet another single approach: structured English immersion. Rather than locking one single approach into law, we need to allow local school districts choice in deciding how best to meet the needs of the students in their districts. In fact, a district may decide to offer a variety of programs to teach English. This initiative petition refuses to allow each local community to make the appropriate educational choices for its children.

THIS PETITION WOULD ENFORCE EDUCATION POLICY THROUGH THREAT OF LAWSUIT. This initiative allows parents to sue our teachers, principals, superintendents and school committee members. The Committee believes that learning English and being academically successful will be best achieved when administrators, teachers, and parents work cooperatively and districts are held accountable for results. A threat of personal lawsuit may discourage people from entering the teaching profession at a time of teacher shortages.

BILINGUAL EDUCATION REFORM SHOULD ULTIMATELY CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP. There was no clear testimony presented to the Committee to suggest that the implementation of a similar petition in California achieved the goal of closing the achievement gap between English and limited English speaking children. In fact, some testimony indicated that the achievement gap has actually increased since the California petition was adopted.

THE COMMITTEE SUPPORTS REFORM OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION WHICH ALLOWS DISTRICTS TO CHOOSE THE APPROACHES THEY WILL TAKE TO TEACH ENGLISH TO LIMITED ENGLISH SPEAKING STUDENTS, WHILE HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR CHOICES. Our goal is to ensure that every child acquires English within a reasonable period of time and succeeds academically. This requires a more comprehensive approach to education than is offered in this petition.

THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, ARTS AND HUMANITIES, THEREFORE, STRONGLY AND UNANIMOUSLY REJECTS THIS INITIATIVE PETITION.

Senators
Robert A. Antonioni
Marian Walsh
Jo Ann Sprague

Representatives
Peter J. Larkin
Brian Paul Golden
Kevin J. Murphy
Eugene L. O’Flaherty
Alice K. Wolf
Jose L. Santiago
Marie P. St. Fleur
David M. Torrisi
David C. Bunker, Jr.
Robert S. Hargraves
Karyn E. Polito

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