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The Role of Advocacy in Shaping Immigrant Education: A California Case Study

by Laurie Olsen - 2009

Background Context: Throughout United States history, immigrant education has been shaped and defined by political struggles over immigration, language rights, national security, and educational equity and access. Bilingual education has become the contemporary battleground for these struggles. In 1996, in California, a struggle ensued between supporters of bilingual education and the English Only movement, culminating in a public ballot initiative, Proposition 227, designed to end bilingual education.

Purpose/Focus: This article explores the ways in which advocacy groups engage in efforts to protect immigrant students’ access to, and inclusion in, schools, and how that engagement is shaped and seeks to impact on prevailing policies and ideologies.

Design: This qualitative case study is based on historical records from the Proposition 227 campaigns, analysis of media coverage, and interviews, and was written as a reflective piece by a social scientist who was active in the campaigns.

Conclusions and Recommendations: The battle over Proposition 227 was just one episode in a historically broader and deeper societal struggle between fundamentally different perspectives about the role of public schools in a diverse society. Although the explicit conflicts between English Only and bilingual education forces in California before, during, and after Proposition 227 were focused on English learner program design—the language to be used for instruction, materials, and credentialing—this was and is an ideological struggle. Advocates for bilingual education were unprepared for fighting this battle in the public arena of a ballot initiative. In the course of the Proposition 227 campaign, advocates drew lessons that informed a revised strategy: to shift the basic paradigm within which immigrant education is framed beyond the framework of civil rights and a compensatory program to redefine immigration schooling in an affirmative, additive 21st-century global vision. This has resulted in a renewed advocacy movement, illustrating the role that advocacy organizations play in adapting and reshaping the dialogues and policies over immigrant education.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 3, 2009, p. 817-850
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15345, Date Accessed: 9/25/2021 12:12:34 AM

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About the Author
  • Laurie Olsen
    Sobrato Early Academic Literacy for English Learner Success Initiative
    E-mail Author
    LAURIE OLSEN is an independent consultant providing research and technical assistance support for schools in building effective programs for English learners. She is directing the Sobrato Early Academic Literacy for English Learner Success initiative and is principal consultant to the PROMISE Initiative in southern California Her career spans three decades of work throughout the nation as a researcher, writer, speaker, advocate, and provider of professional development and technical assistance to communities and educators on creating equitable, high-achieving schools that honor and celebrate the cultures and languages of all children. A major focus has been high school reform, immigrant education, and educational access. Her dozens of books and publications include the award-winning Made in America: Immigrants in U.S. Schools, And Still We Speak: Stories of Communities and Schools Maintaining Culture and Language, “We Speak America,” and a series of publications for equity-centered school reform. Dr. Olsen holds a PhD in Social and Cultural Studies in Education from U.C. Berkeley, has served on the Board of the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, and is president and founder of Californians Together, a statewide coalition for English learners.
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