Total Immersion Massachusetts English in Public Schools Initiative, Question 2 (2002)

L524 Mini-Project -- Mark Latta March 4, 2017

What is the "Massachusetts English in Public Schools Initiative, Question 2 (2002)"?

Question 2 was a question put to the voters of Massachusetts during the 2002 general election.Question 2 mandated Massachusetts would no longer use bilingual education programs for English language learning students. Rather, Question 2 mandated an intensive English program for ELL students and stipulated this program (and all other instruction) would be in English-only. Additionally, Question 2 allowed teachers and school administrators to be sued if they used non-English languages beyond a cursory level. While exemptions for foreign language classes, special education, and parental waivers were protected within the legislation, Question 2 would essentially do away with any form of bilingual education. (1)

Question 2 passed with over 60% of the popular vote (3) and remains as the language learning policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Recent efforts to replace it with legislation that would allow greater flexibility in language education, including bilingual education, passed both the Massachusetts House and Senate during the 2016 session. However, this proposal, known as The LOOK Bill, failed to pass as a reconciled bill and was not sent to the governor. (2)

What was the Rationale for Question 2? Who Supported and Opposed Question 2?

Question 2 came about because Rosalie Porter, an educator and former ELL student, grew suspicious of claims associated with bilingual education and came to believe bilingual education "segregated [students] by language and ethnicity” (5). As Director of Bilingual and ESL Programs for the public schools in Newton, MA, Ms. Porter directed the schools to begin English-only instruction. Based on the results of this initiative, Ms. Porter began work to change legislation in Massachusetts to mandate English-only instruction. She enlisted the help of Ron Unz, the person who helped similar English-only legislation become law in California. (5) They (along with a few other advocates) formed English for Children of Massachusetts (4) and toured the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, encouraging action on Question 2.

Question 2 was opposed by nearly every professional education organization including the education committees in the Massachusetts House and Senate. Opponents warned against not only against what they considered bad pedagogy, but also the chilling effect Question 2 would likely have considering teachers would be able to be sued by parents for the language they used in classrooms. (4)

How has Question 2 Impacted Public Education in Massachusetts?

It is difficult to clearly answer this question because, despite a dramatic overhaul in language education policy that was implemented by Question 2, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education has not conducted an analysis of outcomes surrounding Question 2, and in 2011 stated, "the state has no plans to do an assessment of the impact of Question 2" (5). In an interview, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester indicated “When I look at the trend data that’s available to me prior to 2002 and since 2002, it’s not at all clear to me that there’s been a major change in a positive or negative direction” (5). The state's inability to release this data or conduct an assessment frustrates both critics of Question 2 and supporters, including Rosalie Porter.

Critics of Question 2 maintain that while language testing may not indicate major changes in language learning, looking at assessment alone doesn't provide the whole picture. Critics contend Question 2 has been a catastrophe because graduation rates of Massachusetts limited English proficiency students have plummeted and dropout rates have tripled. (3) Massachusetts legislators have apparently agreed, passing legislation that would effectively overturn Question 2, but ultimately failing to advance a bill to the Massachusetts Governor. (2)

References

1: Galvin, W. F. (2002). The official Massachusetts information for voters: The 2002 ballot questions. Boston. Retrieved from http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/ifv02.pdf

2: Legislative update. (2017). Retrieved from https://languageopportunity.org/2017/01/23/legislative-update-2015-16-session/

3: Martin, T. (2016). Why Massachusetts is rethinking its strict English immersion law for schools. Retrieved March 4, 2017, from https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-07-08/why-massachusetts-rethinking-its-strict-english-immersion-law-schools

4: Massachusetts English in public schools initiative, question 2 (2002). (2002). Retrieved March 3, 2017, from https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_English_in_Public_Schools_Initiative,_Question_2_(2002)

5: Smardon, A. (2011). Total immersion: Assessing English-only education in Massachusetts. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://www.wgbh.org/articles/Total-Immersion-Assessing-English-Only-Education-In-Massachusetts-3293

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