Tucson educators tell lawmakers of steps planned to comply with Prop 203

TUCSON, Ariz.—Bilingual educators recommended Tuesday that strict comparisons be made on the results of bilingual education and English immersion programs once the state’s Proposition 203 takes effect this fall.

Tucson educators gave a House and Senate working group a detailed outline of what they’re doing to comply with the new English-immersion initiative approved by voters last year, along with some recommendations.

The legislators, headed by Rep. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, are examining how Proposition 203 will be put into effect as well as how to address a federal judge’s order to bolster programs for English-learning students.

The measure reached the ballot in November because of widespread dissatisfaction over the lack of progress among many students in bilingual education programs. Proposition 203 is intended to eliminate those public school programs and replace them with intensive one-year English immersion programs.

The whole purpose of bilingual education, English immersion and English as a Second Language programs is to make sure students learn English, said Salvador Gabaldon, a curriculum specialist for Tucson Unified School District.

But he said many people, including former state Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, mistakenly believe that students learning English should be as capable with the language as native speakers.

Gabaldon noted that Keegan two years ago termed a 20 percent achievement gap “unacceptable” between native English speakers and children in the most successful bilingual programs or ESL programs.

Bilingual programs teach students English in their native language while ESL programs instruct those with an intermediate level of English in English.

“Keegan compared the JV team and the varsity team,” Gabaldon said. “It doesn’t make sense. She should have compared the students in bilingual education programs to those in ESL programs. She should have compared apples to apples.”

Starting this fall, most students needing English instruction will be placed in structured English immersion programs.

“What we are recommending is that we compare the results of SEI programs to bilingual education programs” through testing, said Leonard Basurto, director of TUSD’s bilingual education program.

Proposition 203 states: “All Arizona school children have the right to be provided at their local school with an English language public education.”

That means providing structured English immersion classes and mainstream classes, Basurto said.

There were 850,000 students in Arizona last year, including 140,000 English language learners in some 90 different languages, Basurto said. There were 40,000 bilingual education students.

Out of 63,000 students at TUSD last year, about 6,000 were in English immersion classes and 6,000 in bilingual education classes, Gabaldon said.

Proposition 203 allows parents of children needing English instruction to request a waiver from immersion for their children under certain circumstances and to place them in bilingual education classes instead. In some instances essays are required.

School principals are to make the final decisions.

Gray said the Legislature needs to address the funding situation for bilingual education.

The state has paid districts about $150 annually per English-learning student since in 1991.

A recent legislative study said about $1,500 per student is needed now. A state-commissioned study estimated costs for model programs from $192 to $3,067.

U.S. District Judge Alfredo C. Marquez’s June ruling ordered the state to revamp its funding for instruction for English-learning students by Jan. 31 or sooner.

“My concern is, what are the most effective programs so that we are not leaving students behind … at the 30th percentile,” Gray said.

Basurto said the state should, but doesn’t, require all teachers who will be instructing students in bilingual education or English immersion programs to have bilingual ed or ESL certifications or professional endorsements.

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