ESL, Bilingual ed, and State ballot initiatives

So far, this November has ballot initiatives in 3 states dealing with immigration. Two of these will directly affect ESL teachers and programs.

In Oregon, Measure 58 would limit bilingual instruction to 2 years. Its sponsor, Bill Sizemore, pitches this as a way to force students to study harder and enter mainstream classrooms faster. This is in sharp contrast to the 5-7 years experts like Jim Cummins cite as the length of time needed to learn academic English. Sizemore’s lack of a research-backed reason for setting 2 years as the cut-off point makes you wonder where he come up with that figure. Many have already commented that this sounds more like a cost-cutting (if not anti-immigrant) tactic than anything else. A citizen review panel recently called the measure too rigid and unworkable. more coverage here

A Missouri state constitutional amendment would make English the official language of the state government. This could potentially have broad impact on ESL programs in Adult Education and Community Colleges across the state. If every encounter with the Missouri government (from Driver’s License offices to courthouses) must be in English, then there could be a spike in demand for ESL classes. Some critics are already calling this a non-issue designed only to bring more Republican voters to the polls.

The Missouri amendment is in stark contrast to the recent conference held by the Department of Justice designed to increase access to native-language materials and services such as interpreters.

It’s always difficult to parse out the motivation behind measures like these. Both could be chalked up to money-saving initiatives or as part of the English-Only movements you hear from occasionally. One thing is certain: any that pass will have immediate negative effects on people who are still English language learners.

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