Oregon: Sizemore argues for language measure

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Sep 28 15:55:24 UTC 2008

Sizemore argues for language measure
By Anne Williams

The Register-Guard

Published: September 27, 2008

Bill Sizemore defended his controversial proposal to impose new rules
on the teaching of English as a second language in a lively University
of Oregon forum Friday. But the conservative activist found no allies
among his fellow panelists, all of them educators convinced that
Measure 58, which would set limits on how long students could receive
instruction in their native language, is misguided at best. "Setting a
limit on this is just ignoring all these varying and very different
needs that our children have," said panelist Marcia Koenig, who
directs the federally funded Migrant Education Program for the Lane
Education Service District.

Panelist Steve Bender, a University of Oregon law professor whose
book, "Comprende?: The Significance of Spanish in English-Only Times,"
was published last month, went further. Warning against the measure's
"tough-love rhetoric," he linked it with a broader, xenophobic
movement to declare English the "official" language and curb
immigration. He criticized similar measures that have passed in
Arizona, California and Massachusetts.

"I tell you, I consider these English language initiatives as a whole
as anti-Spanish, anti-Latino," he said, quipping that proponents'
money would better be spent on billboards reading "Latinos — Stay out
of Oregon."

Sizemore said he harbors no racism, and took issue with the
composition of the panel, saying he didn't think the audience of
several dozen students, educators and community members was
well-served. Had he been given the opportunity, he said, he could have
"filled those four seats" with experts who support his measure.

Moderator Tom Lininger said only one panelist, Alejandra Favela, an
assistant professor who coordinates the bilingual education
endorsement program at Lewis and Clark College, represented the
opposition campaign. The others were selected for their expertise in
so-called English Language Learner instruction, he said.

Measure 58 would limit the amount of time students with little or no
English could be taught in a language other than English to no more
than two years for students in grades 9 through 12, 18 months for
those in grades 5 through 8 and one year for those in kindergarten
through grade 4.

Sizemore said he was motivated to craft the proposal after hearing
stories from teacher friends about schools purposefully shifting
students into ELL programs in order to collect the additional
per-pupil state funds allocated for ELL.

"We have devised a policy that says if you teach children to be
proficient in English, we will take away $2,650 out of your budget for
that student," he said. "Is that really sound public policy?"

Sizemore also noted that Oregon's ELL programs appear to be failing.
Indeed, dropout rates and test scores for ELL and Hispanic students —
by far the largest minority group in Oregon — consistently fall far
below average, especially at the middle and high school level.

Favela conceded there's room for improvement, but said Measure 58
would only make things worse. She noted that virtually all instruction
in ELL programs is delivered in English already.

"Overwhelmingly, our kids are learning in English classrooms," she said.

That's true in local districts, said Abby Lane, who coordinates ELL
programs in the Eugene district. She said nearly all instruction
occurs in English, even with children new to the program. Churchill
and North Eugene high schools, she said, do offer one or two classes
in Spanish.

While it might not have much impact on traditional ELL instruction,
the measure could scuttle what would be Lane County's first
dual-language immersion program, tentatively planned to begin at
Eugene's River Road/El Camino del Rio Elementary School next fall. The
program, similar to a dozen others across the state, would serve
roughly equal numbers of native English and Spanish speakers, offering
instruction in both languages to all students, with core subjects
taught half the day in each language.

Principal Paco Furlan, who served on Friday's panel, said the program
has broad and enthusiastic support, and he hopes it will expand up to
the 12th grade.

"This law would take away the right for us to create this program for
our students, and that's very troubling for our community," Furlan

Sizemore has said native Spanish speakers could stay in such a program
beyond the time limit, but to do so they would first have to
demonstrate English proficiency on the state's ELL test, used to gauge
when students are ready to exit the programs.

Such a double standard constitutes an affront on civil rights, Furlan said.

Furlan said he's persuaded by research showing two-way immersion is
among the most effective strategies for ELL students.

Sizemore said research can be used to demonstrate any outcome, and
offered to share some he's looked at with anyone who e-mails him.

"Having a program be research-based means nothing," said Sizemore, who
has authored four other measures on the November ballot.

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