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Measure 58 Draws National Attention

National experts are in Oregon this week arguing both sides of controversial Ballot Measure 58. That’s the initiative to limit teaching English as a Second Language to two years.

As Rob Manning reports both sides are arguing they have the research and results to prove their case.

Rosalie Porter wrote the book, “Forked Tongue” as a scathing indictment of bilingual teaching in the U.S. She has an impressive resume when it comes to  language education.

Porter is a vocal supporter of the kinds of English immersion programs that Oregon would adopt under Measure 58. She says a large-scale study in El Paso showed that students are learning better in immersion programs, than in bilingual programs.

Rosalie Porter: “A number of studies have been done, reliable studies of that kind, that compare groups of children, and show the benefits of the kind of law that I hope the citizens of Oregon will vote for.”

James Crawford: “There’s simply no truth to the fact that these initiatives have been successful for English language learners.”

James Crawford runs the Institute for Language and Education Policy, based in Maryland. He’s a former Education Week reporter.  Ideologically, he’s in the corner opposite Rosalie Porter.

Crawford says researchers from Arizona State University concluded that a similar law in that state has not helped students.

James Crawford: “They found that in one year, 71 percent of the students had not progressed in English, or had even fallen behind from where they’d been at the beginning of the year, under this, basically sink-or-swim situation."

Crawford says the results of state and national assessments show that bilingual and widely-used ESL programs are more effective than immersion.

But Rosalie Porter says other national sources bolster her case- like a 30-year review done by the U.S. Department of Education.  She says the study downplayed the need for native language instruction. Porter says educators conveniently overlooked what that study found.

But there are two places where experts on either side see the same problems. Number one, both say Measure 58 could use help from Oregon lawmakers.

James Crawford cites a Supreme Court case from the early 1970s, which required immigrant students receive the support they need. He says Measure 58  appears to conflict with that decision, more so than previous measures in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts.

James Crawford: “Measure 58 is by far the most extreme of these initiatives, because it has absolutely no flexibility. This is as far as I can tell, a violation of all the civil rights principles that are in place right now.”

Rosalie Porter is not as certain that there’s a looming legal conflict. But she sees a potential opening for legislators to write waivers for Measure 58, like laws in other states have.

Rosalie Porter: “If they have to add a waiver of some sort for parents to do this or that, it’s there. And I will say, I wish the measure were worded more specifically, but the fact is, the measure will do the important thing. It’s going to reduce the amount of native language programs.” 

The two experts also agree that teachers need more training to improve immigrant students' performance.  They say that’s especially important for students in the upper grades, as they try to grasp academic English.

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