Schools

We'd like to raise level of debate on bilingual education

With the second half of the school year under way, it’s time to
ask readers for some input on another important issue: bilingual
education.

Is it working in Arizona?

Last month, we published your suggestions on how to reduce the
ever-growing gap between the academic achievement of minority and
non-minority students.

Those ideas included more tutoring, higher expectations, deeper
parental involvement, a return to the basics and making sure students
can read.

We’d like to hear more thought-provoking ideas about bilingual
education.

What we don’t want to hear are comments similar to those during a
recent shouting match between supporters and opponents of an
initiative to dismantle bilingual education in Arizona.

At the Tucson launch for the movement, the movement’s supporters
yelled, “Go Back to Mexico!” while opponents yelled, “Coconuts!” at
members of English for the Children – Arizona.

The debate, at El Rio Neighborhood Center, 1390 W. Speedway Blvd.,
set the tone for what is expected to be a racially charged and
emotional controversy over the next few months.

We’d like to receive examples of where bilingual education is
working – and where it’s not.

Give us suggestions on how bilingual education can be improved,
and whether it needs to be streamlined or broadened.

Tell us about Pima County children, now grown, who prospered
thanks to bilingual education classrooms – or about those hindered by
the experience.

Students, give us your personal accounts of what it is like in a
bilingual class.

Teachers, administrators and parents, please do the same.

If Tucson, sometimes referred to as the birthplace of bilingual
education, is doing it right, let’s prove it with solid evidence.

If school districts are keeping students back simply to continue
getting additional bilingual education dollars, let’s uncover that.

In California, which essentially has eliminated bilingual
education, recent news accounts indicate some teachers are pleasantly
surprised that some non-English students are speaking English more
quickly.

What do you think would happen in Arizona?

What would be the cost?

If some local bilingual education programs are working and some
are not, let us examine what the differences are and work toward an
equitable program that serves all children well.

The Arizona initiative to dismantle bilingual education is similar
to one that passed in California behind millionaire Ron Unz, who is
lending support to the movement here.

Under the Arizona plan:

Schoolchildren would learn English by being taught in English.

Children with limited English proficiency could enroll in
“sheltered English immersion” programs for up to one year.

Foreign-language classes for children who already know English
would be unaffected, as would special-education programs for the
physically and mentally impaired.

Parents could submit a written waiver to keep their children in
bilingual programs. Schools where 20 or more students in the same
grade request a waiver would be required to offer a bilingual class.

To monitor academic growth, a written test – in English – would be
given annually to all students starting in the second grade.

The initiative attempt, which needs 115,000 signatures to get on
the 2000 ballot, is here – like it or not.

Let us scrutinize the issue here.

We will devote an entire schools page later this year to what we
have learned from your comments.

There is no doubt that local representatives from both sides of
the bilingual education debate truly believe their side has the best
interest of children at heart.

And because of these beliefs, we can forgo the name-calling and
get down to the facts and find true solutions.



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