California rejects it, Florida schools embrace it, and in these states Arizonans can see which way they can go if they vote this fall to keep or kill bilingual education.
California voters ordered their schools in 1998 to stop instruction in any language other than English because of their frustration that too many children never gain a working knowledge of the language — or even their native language — when schools teach them in both.
Miami, Fla., residents, on the other hand, are pushing their schools to produce as many bilingual graduates as they can, for economic reasons. The city wants to stop recruiting workers outside the country.
A Tucson-based group, English for the Children-Arizona, is trying to put a measure similar to California’s on the Nov. 7 ballot in Arizona. It would require the state’s 139,000 limited-English speakers, one in five state students, to catch up within a year in English-only classes.
English for the Children-Arizona points to success stories already being reported in places like the Oceanside Unified School District near San Diego.
In the mostly Mexican-immigrant community, children in English immersion are raising test scores and whizzing through grade-level books by the second grade. Before, third graders were just starting to write simple sentences in English, such as filling in the blanks after “I like … .”
“My first experience with immersion is it works,” said Superintendent Kenneth Noonan, formerly a supporter of bilingual education.
Miami residents say they can’t understand why anyone opposes bilingual education.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools are expanding model language programs so that students can take half of their subjects in English and the rest in other languages.
The programs are for native English speakers who are trying to learn other languages, as well as for students who speak little English. English for the Children-Arizona would prohibit such an approach.
“I think one fallacy is, we continue to think in this country that it’s either-or,” said Lourdes Rovira, the Miami bilingual education director. “Children don’t have a problem acquiring two or three languages at the same time.”
About the author This three-day series was supported by the Education Writers Association. Star reporter Sarah Tully Tapia, who has covered education issues for almost five years, was one of six reporters nationwide to be awarded a two-month fellowship to investigate bilingual education. She can be contacted at [email protected] or 573-4117.