We'd like to raise level of debate on bilingual education

With the second half of the school year under way, it’s time to ask readers for some input on another important issue: bilingual education.

Is it working in Arizona?

Last month, we published your suggestions on how to reduce the ever-growing gap between the academic achievement of minority and non-minority students.

Those ideas included more tutoring, higher expectations, deeper parental involvement, a return to the basics and making sure students can read.

We’d like to hear more thought-provoking ideas about bilingual education.

What we don’t want to hear are comments similar to those during a recent shouting match between supporters and opponents of an initiative to dismantle bilingual education in Arizona.

At the Tucson launch for the movement, the movement’s supporters yelled, “Go Back to Mexico!” while opponents yelled, “Coconuts!” at members of English for the Children – Arizona.

The debate, at El Rio Neighborhood Center, 1390 W. Speedway Blvd., set the tone for what is expected to be a racially charged and emotional controversy over the next few months.

We’d like to receive examples of where bilingual education is working – and where it’s not.

Give us suggestions on how bilingual education can be improved, and whether it needs to be streamlined or broadened.

Tell us about Pima County children, now grown, who prospered thanks to bilingual education classrooms – or about those hindered by the experience.

Students, give us your personal accounts of what it is like in a bilingual class.

Teachers, administrators and parents, please do the same.

If Tucson, sometimes referred to as the birthplace of bilingual education, is doing it right, let’s prove it with solid evidence.

If school districts are keeping students back simply to continue getting additional bilingual education dollars, let’s uncover that.

In California, which essentially has eliminated bilingual education, recent news accounts indicate some teachers are pleasantly surprised that some non-English students are speaking English more quickly.

What do you think would happen in Arizona?

What would be the cost?

If some local bilingual education programs are working and some are not, let us examine what the differences are and work toward an equitable program that serves all children well.

The Arizona initiative to dismantle bilingual education is similar to one that passed in California behind millionaire Ron Unz, who is lending support to the movement here.

Under the Arizona plan:

Schoolchildren would learn English by being taught in English.

Children with limited English proficiency could enroll in “sheltered English immersion” programs for up to one year.

Foreign-language classes for children who already know English would be unaffected, as would special-education programs for the physically and mentally impaired.

Parents could submit a written waiver to keep their children in bilingual programs. Schools where 20 or more students in the same grade request a waiver would be required to offer a bilingual class.

To monitor academic growth, a written test – in English – would be given annually to all students starting in the second grade.

The initiative attempt, which needs 115,000 signatures to get on the 2000 ballot, is here – like it or not.

Let us scrutinize the issue here.

We will devote an entire schools page later this year to what we have learned from your comments.

There is no doubt that local representatives from both sides of the bilingual education debate truly believe their side has the best interest of children at heart.

And because of these beliefs, we can forgo the name-calling and get down to the facts and find true solutions.

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