A brash prediction: If, as it appears it will, the initiative to end bilingual education in Arizona gets on the November ballot, it will pass.

It will pass because people will tap into a visceral antipathy on the topic that seems to be in great abundance here.

It won’t matter that the state’s own figures show that limited English-speaking students enrolled in bilingual education score better in reading and language than those enrolled in English-only programs.

It won’t matter that the goal of bilingual education is and has always been teaching kids English, while using Spanish instruction to make sure they don’t slip in core topics in the interim.

All that will matter is that English, by God, is the language of this country and those #%$#&@% foreigners better darn sure wise up. It is cultural and language jingoism, pure and simple.

Yes, in that group will be some folks legitimately concerned because some Spanish-speakers stay what seems to be too long in bilingual education programs. These will be the same folks worried because bilingual education students traditionally score lower than non-Spanish-speakers.

The problem is that they will take napalm to the problems instead of a scalpel. They will, in effect, buy into the jingoism.

They will not, for instance, reason that perhaps part of the cause of bilingual education’s flaws is that it is seriously underfunded.

In January, a U.S. district judge found that underfunding causes limited-English speakers to be packed into overcrowded classrooms with some less-than-qualified teachers and aides and that tutoring and instructional material are lacking.

They will not reason that the Spanish-speakers are scoring lower than their non-Spanish-speaking peers because the Stanford 9 test is given in English.
This is a no-brainer: Students struggling with English will score lower on a test given in English.

Folks who vote for the initiative will also likely not factor in the fact that Spanish-speakers in Arizona, as elsewhere in the United States, suffer disproportionately from the same factors that cause kids of all backgrounds to lag academically. Simply, kids who are poor and have parents with little or no education have a tougher time.

Bilingual education has simply become one of those raw, emotional issues –
one of the convenient scapegoats for what ails Arizona education generally.

This Arizona initiative is patterned after one that passed in California,
except this one is more onerous.

In California, part of the election pitch was that if, after the initiative passed, parents still wanted their children in bilingual education, they could get a waiver.

The Arizona initiative is more restrictive. Even if teachers, principals and parents agree that a child has the special individual needs that warrant bilingual education, the waiver can be rejected “without explanation or legal consequence.” In fact, the initiative says, “The existence of such special individual needs shall not compel issuance of a waiver. ?”

The Arizona initiative, as in California, mandates that schools create bilingual education classrooms if 20 or more students in a class level are given such waivers. In California, however, some districts are apparently simply ignoring the provision.

Arizona will be no different.

There are some things worth mimicking about California. It would be nice,
for instance, to have some ocean to go along with all the beach we have.

Here’s hoping my prediction of a win for this initiative has about as much chance as owning ocean-front property in Buckeye.

Reach Pimentel at Ricardo.Pimentel@ArizonaRepublic.com or (602)444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.



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