The Debate Over Bilingual Education In California

Alice Callaghan has spent decades working with mostly Mexican and Guatemalan families out of a tiny office near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. It doubles as a school for a few dozen 4- and 5-year-olds.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, children scamper to their seats to work on phonics exercises, blended words, vocabulary and reciting classroom rules. Not a word in Spanish is spoken, heard or written on the posters and word puzzles hanging on the walls, and many of the children’s names have been anglicized.

It has been nearly two decades since California imposed significant restrictions on bilingual education and mandated English-only instruction for the state’s 1.4 million English-language learners (ELLs). But on this year’s ballot, Proposition 58 will give voters a chance to lift those restrictions and make it easier for parents to choose.

Proponents of bilingual instruction say the change is long overdue, but opponents are convinced it will be a huge mistake.

Here in downtown Los Angeles, Callaghan — a former nun and self-described liberal — is proud to call this an English-only school.

“Almost all of our children are at the beginning level,” she says. “When they leave first grade, they’re at the advanced level.”

Callaghan and critics of bilingual instruction say it delays kids’ ability to read, write and speak proper English.

Read more: NPR

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