John Leo
Getting a social reform passed is tough enough. Next comes the harder problem of dealing with stubborn resistance from bureaucrats who refuse to change.

Take welfare reform. It has been a brilliant success, so resistance should have vanished, right? No. Attempts to undermine workfare by counting "education and training" as work are everywhere. The states, most of which fought workfare and lost, are renewing the old fight. New York City's new welfare commissioner calls the reforms a "heavy-handed ... numbers game" and a "cookie-cutter" approach. (Translation: Don't require work.)

Over at, journalist Mickey Kaus, who has covered the welfare issue for years, says he fears some sort of backroom deal that will gut welfare reform. In California, what appears to be a backroom deal by the state board of education has jeopardized the state's law ending bilingual education. In 1998, the voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 227, dismantling the disastrous bilingual bureaucracy. Like welfare reform, 227 has been a tremendous success. Latino children are picking up English quickly and their scores on reading and writing have soared.

But in response to pressure from the old bilingual lobby, the state's board of education loosened rules. The law says only parents can apply for children's waivers from English immersion classes. The new rules allow teachers rather than parents to decide whether children should be in bilingual programs, thus nullifying a core provision of 227. The empire strikes back.

This follows an intense campaign of noncompliance with 227. The law said "nearly all" teaching must be in English, but some districts set the bar of "nearly all" at 60 percent of teaching. Some Los Angeles schools set it at 49.9 percent. Games were played with the strict waiver rules. Officials told a conference of teachers (falsely) that English alphabet sounds would not be taught in English-only classes. Many other tricks were played to circumvent the law. One was to turn a public school into an exempt "alternative" or "magnet" school. Some schools skipped the finagling and just flatly refused to obey the law.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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