California’s Proposition 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education


California’s Proposition 58: Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education

A flexible but accountable approach, as Prop 58 provides, is what is needed.

Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives

Prop 58 is designed to repeal Prop 227, approved by voters in 1998, which requires teachers to teach “limited English proficient” (LEP) students primarily in English and reduce the amount of time students spend in special education classes. Prop 58 would still require schools to ensure English proficiency but lets them create various programs for doing so and provides parents the option to choose which English program their child enrolls in.

Fiscal Impact:

No notable fiscal effect on school districts or state government

Proponents’ Arguments For:

Proponents of Prop 58 argue that there are no statistically significant data to show that Prop 227’s immersion style of instruction produces better English proficiency than any other program, and that mandating a one-size-fits all approach is increasingly ineffective and out of touch with advances in teaching. Prop 58 gives flexibility back to schools, children and parents to try different approaches to reaching English proficiency and find the ones that work best for each child.

Prop 58 still requires schools to offer a structured English immersion program as one option for English learners. But it also removes barriers to multilingual education for English speakers, allowing more options for them to learn second languages. Students who learn a second language tend to do better academically overall and are more prepared for a globalized workplace.

This measure will require that local school officials submit plans detailing their programs and efforts to achieve English proficiency for all students in order to increase accountability. The current system has no accountability mechanism for local school officials.

Opponents’ Arguments Against:

Opponents argue that Prop 58 will repeal Prop 227, the “English for the Children” initiative that was overwhelmingly approved by California voters in 1998 and worked well immediately—within four years test scores of over a million immigrant students in California increased by 30%, 50%, or even 100%, and the number of Latinos scoring high enough to get into the University of California system shot up.

They say Prop 58 is a thinly veiled attempt to reinstate Spanish-only teaching in California schools. It repeals the requirement for English-only teaching in the schools. One section of Prop 58 allows the legislature to make future changes to English proficiency requirements and programs. This would allow the legislature to reestablish classes almost entirely in Spanish with a simple majority vote. Before Prop 227, “bilingual education” conducted mostly in Spanish was a failure, with many Latinos never learning how read, write or even speak English properly. Prop 58 opens the door for the legislature to roll California schools back to those failed approaches and prevent millions more Latino children from achieving English proficiency.


Before Prop 227, the bilingual education system in California was a disaster that utterly failed to help kids with limited English become proficient and catch up to other students in overall academic performance. But the changes imposed by Prop 227 don’t seem to have helped.

The opponents of Prop 58 point to big gains by bilingual students in the years right after Prop 227 passed, but the problem is those gains both did not last and appear to be due to other factors. In 2016 English learners as a group scored low on state testing, with only 13% meeting English standards and 12% meeting math standards, not appreciably better than before Prop 227. Likewise the achievement gap for Hispanic students in California on the National Assessment of Education Progress NAEP dropped an almost insignificant amount from 35 in 1998 to 31 in 2015.

Those results reflect more than just the effects of English proficiency classes on student performance, but they do show that the mandated, single-approach English immersion classes of Prop 227 have not turned things around for English learning students. Meanwhile Stanford University and others have conducted experimental and longitudinal studies that find English-only immersion does not do any better than several other methods of teaching English, and tends to have only short-term results. San Francisco has made extensive use of high–quality, dual immersion programs, rather than English only, and has the highest state test scores for English learners.

Proposition 58 does give school districts a lot more flexibility to try different types of bilingual programs and it does add accountability to the state allows parents to make choices, which is lacking under the current system. A flexible but accountable approach, as Prop 58 provides, is what is needed. For example, charter schools seem to be doing the best job serving English learning students, especially in Los Angeles, likely because they have more flexibility to match kids with the English program that works best for them.

Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives