Pacific@MPSA: English for the children?
Ed. note: This is the third in our series of entries about presentations by people associated with the department at the recent Midwestern Political Science Association annual meetings. Today’s entry is especially exciting as it is from Ms. Julia Sweeney, one of our students. Ms. Sweeney presented a poster about her project evaluating the impact of Prop. 227 in California. Be sure to check out the photo at the end.
In 1998, California voters approved Proposition 227, “English for the Children”. This ballot initiative promoted an English-only approach to teaching English Second Language (ESL) learners. The impact of ESL policy in California is great, as 23.7% of the California public school population is classified as ESL (cde.gov). This project assesses the impact of that English-only proposition on the success of ESL students in each California school district.
The implementation of Proposition 227 varied immensely throughout the state. Some districts drastically changed their services from providing primary language support to English-only; some districts continued primary language support; and some districts provided the same English-only services before and after Prop. 227. Due to the differences in impact Prop.227 had throughout the state, this project analyzed the relationship between services provided within a district and ESL test scores, assuming that Prop. 227 influenced an overall increase in English-only methods and decrease in primary language support.
The literature discusses the importance of embracing an ESL student’s primary language, stating that ESL students can fall behind academically if they don’t learn the basic skills being taught in English. If a student enters the first grade and spends that year focusing on learning “Survivor English” (the very basic English communication skills) and does not comprehend the academic content being taught, by the time that student understands academic English, they have missed the foundation for their academic content. The research in this area also stresses that academic skills established in a primary language are transferable once the student better understands English. For these reasons I predicted to see a negative relationship between English-only instruction and ESL test scores. As the percentage of students in a district receiving no primary language services increased, I predicted to see a decrease in the percentage of students in a district testing at a proficient level.
Using the data from the California Department of Education website on school instructional services, ESL populations within a district, and California English Language Development Test (CELDT) scores, I analyzed a cross section time series. Although the results initially have shown an insignificant relationship, the proponents of Proposition 227 were incorrect to say that English-only services would improve test scores and raise ESL student success.
After receiving feedback at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference last weekend, I plan to expand this project to include other test scores and more quantitative analysis for my senior political science capstone presentation at the end of April.