Bilingual education may be on way out

Foes closer to putting initiative to end the program on ballot

A campaign to end bilingual education in Arizona is
gaining momentum with proponents claiming they have
collected more than enough signatures to place the
initiative before voters this November.

The ballot initiative, modeled after a similar
proposal approved by California voters in 1998,
gained added steam Monday when Rep. Matt Salmon, R-
Ariz., became the first political leader in the
state to endorse the measure.

At a news conference, Salmon characterized
bilingual education as a “boondoggle” that after 30
years has failed to produce the intended results of
teaching immigrant students to be proficient in
both their native language and English.

Citing a state Department of Education report,
Salmon said only 5.5 percent of bilingual students
in Arizona become proficient in English.
“If 95 percent of the kids fail, then the program
ought to be dumped,” Salmon said.

After California abolished bilingual education,
test scores among immigrant students went up, said
Salmon, who is leaving Congress next year and
weighing a run for governor in 2002.

Salmon also blamed bilingual education for the high
dropout rate among Hispanic students in Arizona.

“If our children are going to compete in the world,
they have to learn English,” he said.

If the initiative passes, bilingual students would
be placed in regular English classes and students
not fluent in English would be placed in a one-year
English immersion course.

Maria Mendoza, co-chairwoman of English for the
Children of Arizona, said the group has more than
the 101,762 signatures needed to qualify the
initiative for the Nov. 7 ballot.

Mendoza’s group was started in Tucson two years ago
by mostly Hispanic parents and teachers who say
bilingual education places Hispanic children on the
road to economic failure by preventing them from
learning English, Mendoza said.

The group has since won the support of parents and
educators in the Phoenix area, including Margaret
Garcia-Dugan, principal of Glendale High School,
and Norma Alvarez, a community activist and former
bilingual education supporter now opposed to
bilingual education.

“I’m not against being bilingual. I’m not against
being Mexican,” Alvarez said. “But if we want our
children to learn English, we have to get rid of
bilingual education.”

John Petrovic, a researcher at Arizona State
University’s Center for Bilingual Education and
Research, said it would be a mistake to dump
bilingual education in Arizona.

Research shows that immigrant children benefit more
from bilingual education than English immersion

“Kids in English immersion programs tend to fall
behind academically and not close the gap in
academic achievement between themselves and
English-speaking students,” Petrovic said.

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