Apparently, we believe in choice in education — conditionally.

If a poll released last week is accurate, choice in Arizona doesn’t apply if you are:

* A Brown immigrant child or parent who speaks limited or no English.

* A kid who is thriving in a bilingual education program.

Such people unlucky enough to be residing in Arizona now when we’re apparently on the verge of deciding that bilingualism – contrary to prevailing wisdom in the rest of the world – is something akin to Satan worship.

The poll, commissioned by The Arizona Republic, showed Proposition 203 –
which would replace bilingual education with a one-year English immersion program – winning 74 percent of the vote.

I wonder, however, if Arizonans would vote this way if they realized that this initiative is the embodiment of no choice.

Arizona state school superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan is not among the initiative supporters. The problem for her boils down to choice and the unnecessary ugliness kids have been exposed to during this debate.

Prop. 203 contains only the illusion of choice.

If 20 or more children in any grade level attain a waiver, the school must provide a bilingual education.

To get waivers, parents – who speak and write little or no English – must document their children’s special individual needs in no less than 250 words and then get authorizing signatures from the principal and the school superintendent.

This special need, entered into the official school record, has to be physical or psychological. Lack of language proficiency doesn’t qualify.
Clearly, no parent is going to put that label on his or her child.

And the initiative makes it more difficult still for children older than 10 to get a waiver. Choice?

But here’s the kicker. Teachers and local school districts, according to the initiative, can deny these waivers for no reason, without consequence.

Any parent in any school district can, with this initiative, sue any school that does not use “English language public instruction.” School board members and administrators can be held personally liable.

Under threat of lawsuit, few teachers are going to use Spanish to help the kid still struggling after one year (about 175 days, actually) of immersion.

About those California scores that the English-only – excuse me, the English for the Children – people are citing.

Yes, scores for limited-English-speaking children in English-immersion classes rose ? about the same as those for children who remained in bilingual-education classes. Scores rose across-the-board for all California children in this third year of the Stanford 9 test in that state.

Improved scores for the bilingual students don’t prove bilingual education is better than immersion. Weighted scientific studies prove that.
California’s scores show only what happens in the first years of a test when teachers teach the test.

Some major publications, without scratching the surface, have jumped aboard the bandwagon here. Which proves only that one side has a better PR machine.
The publications, notably the New York Times, simply bought the scores argument hook, line and sinker.

And it’s not surprising. The English-only folks are counting on visceral reactions from folks who want to make a statement about the primacy of English, also signaling a singular lack of compassion for and understanding of struggling immigrant children.

What a waste. Immigrants already know that English is the language of success.

Please, consider fairness here. Consider also whether one-size, fits-all is the same as choice or compassion.

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

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