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Sara Robinson: Ron Unz and the Initiative Process Made My Daughter's Education Worse

Sara Robinson emails:

Our local school had a bilingual Spanish-English immersion program that had been running for a dozen years with stunning results. They took 10 kids from Spanish-speaking homes, and 10 kids from English-speaking homes, and put them together in the same class from K all the way through to fifth grade. In K, they got 90% of their instruction in Spanish, and 10% in English. In first grade, it was 80/20; in second, 70/30, and so on. By fifth grade, all the kids were fully fluent in both languages, often without an accent. More importantly: they were each others' best friends, and completely comfortable with each others' cultures.

The test scores for both groups as they got into high school were through the roof, and the Hispanic kids (having absorbed the same career expectations as their white middle-class classmates) were college-bound at a rate something like twice that of their peers. The program also attracted the very best teachers, so the quality of instruction was marvelous no matter what language the kids were being taught in. The whole thing was considered a raging success, and the school was in the process of doubling the capacity of the program to serve all the parents who wanted their kids in it. Other schools around the state were implementing our model as well: it was a coming trend, and our district was proud to be one of the innovators.

My daughter was in second grade in this program when Unz came along. His amendment rendered the program illegal, forcing our program and all of its brethren around the state to shut down. It was an irrational and stupid thing to do,

Referenda have increasingly become the playthings of rich people with really dumb ideas they want to foist off onto the rest of us. You can get anything on the ballot here in WA State for a million bucks -- the kind of money that's hard to raise if you're a public interest group, but easy to write a check for if you're, say, a Microsoft millionaire. Most of the propositions on ballots here these days (and in California, too, where the buy-in is 10x higher) are stuff that nobody really wants, but somebody who can write big checks has unilaterally decided we should have.