Report: Kids languish in bilingual ed

Less than 3 percent of Arizona bilingual education students are learning enough skills to put them in mainstream classes.

That finding, in a report due this month from the Arizona Department of Education, gives more fuel to opponents of bilingual education.

With California voters last week deciding to end bilingual education in that state, some Arizonans think the time is ripe for ditching a teaching method Arizona was one of the first states to institute decades ago.

The 2.8 percent of children who are moving into mainstream classes each year “obviously is much too low,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Patty Likins.

“Children need to be moving out of that system and into the mainstream faster than this,” she said.

“It?s something we need to look into, but services really are controlled at the local level,” Likins added.

The Department of Education needs to ask districts “why these numbers are so low,” she said.

Jean Favela, director of bilingual education at Sunnyside Unified School District, said numbers from the state report can be deceiving because they count all bilingual education children no matter how far they have progressed.

Some who have been sent to mainstream classes are still “monitored” to make sure they are succeeding, she said, and therefore still count as being in the program.

“We don?t just throw them out and say ?See ya,? ” Favela said.

The low number of bilingual students learning enough skills to enter mainstream classes was not unexpected, Likins said.

“It?s a feeling that we have gotten from the public that these programs may not be working. There are children in these classes six or seven years.”

Answers are up to the communities and the governing boards, she said.

State Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, who sponsored an unsuccessful bill this year to limit the time students could be in bilingual education, plans to introduce a similar bill next session.

“It?s a problem if only 2.8 percent have an effective learning process. Maybe someone is doing something right somewhere, and the state needs to know what that is,” she said.

The state has 93,528 students deemed in need of help learning English. Of those, 87,827 are being taught in some form of bilingual education program, Likins said.

A total of 57,404 are in English as a Second Language classes and 26,248 are in specific bilingual education classes.

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