Arizona is doing an appalling job of moving students out of
bilingual education programs and into the mainstream schooling that
they need to succeed.
That is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from a state
Department of Education report released late last week.
The report found that less than 10 percent of Tucson students
enrolled in bilingual education programs learned enough English last
year to enter regular classrooms.
That sounds bad, but Tucson is actually ahead of the rest of
Arizona. Statewide, only about 1 in 20 bilingual students moved to
regular classrooms last year.
The figures varied considerably among districts. In Flowing Wells,
for example, 27 percent of the bilingual education students moved
into regular classrooms last year. But in the Tucson Unified School
District, only 5.7 percent made the transition. And in Marana, none
What this clearly illustrates is that bilingual education programs
can accomplish what they are designed to do – teach students English
so they can join their peers in a general education setting – if the
district has a commitment to that goal.
But what is also shows is that some districts are content to
coddle students in bilingual education classes virtually
Money certainly plays a role in this equation. Districts receive
about $150 more per year for every student enrolled in bilingual
education classes. So there is a built-in financial incentive to keep
students in bilingual education longer.
But three weeks ago, a federal judge ruled that the funding level
was “arbitrary and capricious” and agreed with plaintiffs in a
lawsuit who said the state is not spending enough on bilingual
More money is certainly needed. But unless that money comes with
some caveats, there is no assurance that students will do anything
other than continue to linger in bilingual education classes.
The Legislature has discussed imposing a three-year-per-student
limit on bilingual education. That seems reasonable. It would give
school districts incentive to teach students English and move them
into the mainstream.
Some districts have shown that bilingual education can work. The
challenge is to make it work for all Arizona children.