State school chief: Bilingual ed initiative not needed

Lisa Graham Keegan agrees with Tucsonans who don?t think it should take four or five years of bilingual education for children to become proficient in English.

But the state superintendent of public instruction doesn?t agree Arizona needs to put an initiative on the ballot to prove it.

Keegan, at a Tucson Citizen editorial board meeting yesterday, said she wants to meet with a group led by activist Mary Mendoza to talk about the issue.

Two weeks ago, Mendoza helped form a local committee to support an initiative similar to one passed in California, which calls for an end to long-term bilingual education.

“In most cases I don?t think it should take four or five years for students to become proficient,” Keegan said. In fact, Arizona “really does have some examples of come incredible coursework that doesn?t take that much time.”

School districts receive about an additional $175 from the state per student annually in bilingual education, Keegan said. “And in some cases, we have students who have drawn money for bilingual education for nine years.

“That’s a lot of money, but philosophically, too, it’s a concern,” she said. “Students have to be able to participate in school.”

Keegan expects the Legislature to introduce another bill next year to put a time limit on bilingual education, which she supports. Eventually, she said, “we are going to tell schools we are only going to pay you for this for a certain number of years (per student).

“Bilingual education should be the acquisition of proficiency, not to instill culture and not to preserve the native tongue.”

That can be done elsewhere, she said.

Students must become proficient in English “because these kids are going to have to pass the new Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test in high school – and it will be in English,” Keegan said.

To graduate, students in the class of 2001 will be required to pass AIMS, which is made up of five math tests and one each in reading and writing.

English proficiency is possible, she said, citing examples in the Phoenix area.

“In Avondale, there is a great program. In Alhambra, which is 90 percent minority, parents sign contracts saying they will help keep their kids on track … and their (standardized test) scores are even higher than those in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley,” Keegan said.

“If the person who ran the program in Alhambra hadn’t offered it, we would have had another 1,000 students who people thought just couldn’t succeed.”

Both parent and school expectations need to be high for any student to succeed, Keegan said.

She also urged school board members statewide to pay more attention to the AIMS, which will be given to sophomores statewide.

Students have five chances to pass the seven tests – spring of sophomore year, fall and spring of junior year and fall and spring of senior year. Once they pass any of the seven parts, they don’t have to take that part again.


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