Arizonans could vote this fall to follow California’s lead and force students who speak little English to catch up with their classmates in a year through English-only classes.
English for the Children-Arizona, a Tucson-based citizens initiative, is born out of frustration by some educators and parents that too many children never gain a working knowledge of English, or even their native language, when schools teach them in both.
“It might sound draconian to place them in English immersion programs, but we know that it works,” said initiative co-chairman Hector Ayala, a Cholla High teacher who immigrated from Nogales, Sonora, as a child.
The initiative would ban bilingual education, the term used for programs that offer some level of instruction in Spanish and other native languages of Arizona students. English for the Children-Arizona is collecting signatures for a place on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Under the initiative, teachers could no longer instruct in the language a student knows best. Parents would lose the option of enrolling their children in bilingual education in most cases. And all existing programs for limited-English speakers, even those that use only English, would be replaced with a short-term English immersion program.
The state has a lot at stake in the proposed initiative. Nearly one-fifth of public school students, 139,000 children, are classified as limited-English speakers, ranking Arizona No. 6 in the nation. Enrollment of limited-English speakers has nearly tripled in the past 15 years and will continue to grow.
If they fail to learn English, students will not graduate. They will also have a harder time making a living. But if they master two languages, they have a greater chance of succeeding in the work place, studies show.
Full immersion appears to work in some places. At the Oceanside Unified School District near San Diego, children have been learning English and raising test scores at a higher rate than they did before Californians voted in favor of English immersion in 1998.
“Our job is to move to English as quickly as possible,” said Oceanside Superintendent Kenneth Noonan. “We have no such obligation to maintain a child’s home language.”
But years of research and school achievement results are spotty, providing little support for a single approach in every school. And overall, most language experts agree on two points: At least some instruction in a child’s native language helps, and it takes more than a year to master a second language.
“I’m an English advocate; that’s why Ibelieve in bilingual education,”said Wakefield Middle School educator Alejandra Sotomayor, president of the Tucson Association for Bilingual Education and an active opponent of the initiative. “If anything, now is the time to support limited-English proficient children.”
Even one of the leading advocates of English immersion, researcher Christine Rossell of Boston University, agrees that some education in a child’s native tongue is acceptable.
“When a kid literally knows no English, probably learning in their native tongue, if the language is in the Roman alphabet, is probably a good thing. If it’s a quick bridge, very quick,” said Rossell, whose 1996 study of programs for limited-English students supports the argument for English immersion.
But she still favors English immersion instruction.
“I think the problem with bilingual education is it goes on too long, and it will always go on too long. I don’t think it’s possible to get students to transition fast.”
Pima County programs targeted
Only about a third of the Arizona’s limited-English students are in bilingual programs today, with the rest taking English-based classes through English as a Second Language programs. But bilingual education is how most of
Pima County’s 19,000 limited-English students are learning, including some children in the Tucson, Amphitheater, Sunnyside and Indian Oasis-Baboquivari unified school districts.
English for the Children-Arizona would eliminate those programs, including bilingual programs at public schools on Indian reservations that are designed to help preserve dying native languages.
It would also eliminate Tucson’s Davis Bilingual Magnet School, a program so popular that some parents have registered their children at birth for later enrollment there.
The Arizona initiative, supported by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who is paying to hire petition circulators, shuts off options for parents that were left open in California. Backers, though, say they are closing a loophole in California’s law that has allowed bilingual education to continue in many districts.
Except in few special exceptions, Arizona parents would be denied waivers to send their children to bilingual programs.
Initiative supporters argue that bilingual education has provided such a poor return on the state’s investment of $35 million — and millions more shifted from district coffers and federal grants — that channeling all efforts into a single program is the only answer.
They cite as evidence the state’s “reclassification rate,” the number of limited-English students who test high enough for placement in mainstream English-only classes without special help.
The rate for 1998-99 was 5.5 percent, which initiative backers interpret as a 95 percent failure rate for bilingual education. But that interpretation fails to take into consideration some key factors: Only about 40 percent of limited-
English students even took the series of tests last year and most of them aren’t enrolled in bilingual education programs. Also, this rate shows how many tested out in one year, but most programs are designed to last several years — sometimes a student’s entire school career.
Still, opponents find the numbers unacceptable. Ayala said, “One of the best things now is that we are going to uniform the choice.”
National debate started in Tucson
The debate over instruction in two languages springs from the same place the method was born three decades ago.
TUSD is the cradle of bilingual education because three of the key players in the campaign for federal support hail from the district. In 1968, the federal Bilingual Education Act was passed at the urging of three Pueblo High School educators: Hank Oyama, Adalberto Guerrero and the late Maria Urquides.
Where once Hispanics were basically in agreement on the issue, now they’re on both sides. TUSDeducators Ayala and Sotomayor personify the split.
They have similar backgrounds. Born in Sonora, Mexico, they are native Spanish speakers and learned English through immersion in Southern Arizona elementary schools in the 1960s.
But for Ayala, schooling in English immersion was the key to success. For Sotomayor, English immersion was a painful lesson in discrimination. Sotomayor was one of thousands of Southern Arizona students who started out in
Americanization classes, called 1C, for students who did not speak English. Former students say they were punished for speaking Spanish and about 60 percent of 1C students in TUSD dropped out of school from 1919 to 1967. Bilingual education supporters see the proposition as a regression to 1C.
Memories of the past and hope for a better future fuel deep passions over what might be the most important education issue facing Arizona’s Hispanic population.
When English for the Children-Arizona announced the proposition in January 1999, sign-clutching bilingual supporters frightened members’ children to tears.
Sotomayor likens Hispanic leaders against bilingual education to Jews who sold out other Jews in Nazi Germany. She says they are a front for racist Anglos.
Ayala has been called a coconut — brown on the outside, white on the inside.
In panels, Ayala refers to his opponents as “militant Hispanics” who call themselves Chicanos, a term he says with disgust.
Bilingual education supporters say Hispanics make up a small minority of those pushing the initiative.
At early English for the Children-Arizona meetings in 1998, 10 to 20 people showed up. The group has 18 core members on a task force, said Maria Mendoza, co-chair of the group. But she said a loose-knit group of hundreds are working for the cause statewide.
Ayala said many Hispanics are afraid to be active. Most initiative opponents are bilingual education teachers, administrators and professors who have a vested interest in the method, Ayala said.
Bilingual education supporters dispute that, saying opponents don’t know enough about how bilingual education works.
They point to widespread support for bilingual education, for example, among the 2,000 members of the Arizona
Language Education Council that was formed to educate the public about language issues. About 475 people attended the 30th anniversary celebration for TUSD’s bilingual education program in October. A few thousand parents, students and teachers participated in a Bilingual Learning Exposition last month.
Hispanic groups, including the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens, have taken stands in favor of bilingual education, but not specifically on the proposition. The Hispanic
Professional Action Committee has engaged in spirited discussions about bilingual education, with members coming out on both sides, said Louis Hollingsworth, the committee’s past president.
Ayala and Sotomayor use their own students to make their opposing points.
English teacher Ayala has said in public forums that his students can speak neither English nor Spanish fluently after coming from schools with bilingual programs. He said between 60 and 90 percent of his students were formerly in bilingual classes.
But TUSDrecords show that just 17 of 107 students he taught this year were ever classified as limited English proficient. Only nine of those were in bilingual education and six of those had learned enough English to qualify for regular classes, said Leonard Basurto, TUSDbilingual education director.
Sotomayor says she has taught hundreds of students who started out speaking only Spanish and watches them succeed in two languages. She holds a master’s degree in bilingual education and is the Southern Arizona co-chair of the Arizona Language Education Council, or ALEC.
Each side says it wants to see students speaking both languages. But each argues that the other’s plan will fail to teach students English.
Ayala said he’s confident his group will get the 101,762 signatures it needs by July 6 for a place on the ballot. But even if it fails, he believes his work has had an impact. Some of his former TUSD students say the University of Arizona and local public schools have begun focusing more on teaching in English.
“The bilingual education agenda,” said Ayala, “they are about as far as away from teaching English as anybody can be.” Test scores provide few answers
Local proof of bilingual education’s effectiveness is hard to find, even though the first kindergartens started here 30 years ago.
Officials don’t collect dropout rates for limited-English students. They don ‘t check to see whether students know
English before graduating. And most of those students don’t take statewide standardized tests, such as the Stanford 9, the most commonly used measurement of achievement.
That’s because state law exempts limited-English students from the first three times that the annual Stanford 9 exams are administered after they enter Arizona schools. So, most students try it for the first time in fifth grade. Last year, just 36 percent of limited-English students took the Stanford 9.
Among those who did take the test, there is a wide gap between students who speak little English and native English speakers. Most limited-English students score in the teens or 20s, less than half the statewide average of 49.
Bilingual education experts say these figures are only logical because students who do score at the average on the Stanford 9 are no longer classified as limited English proficient.
Among the limited-English students who took the reading portion of the Stanford 9, those in bilingual education outscored students enrolled in English as a Second Language programs. An analysis by James Crawford, an independent writer and bilingual education advocate, shows that bilingual education students have a 19 percent edge over students in the English-based programs.
A testing expert, though, said the split in test scores between the programs is too small to show definitively that one program is better than the other.
“These are very small differences,” said Tom Haladyna, an educational psychology professor from Arizona State University-West. “A lot of times, those differences can just arise from random chance or fluctuations.”
It’s hard to see what method works best, but there is no doubt about the importance of learning English. Soon, all Arizona students must pass the all-English AIMS test to graduate from high school. This year’s sophomores are the first class that must pass AIMS, Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.
Basurto fears that students who speak little English will fail if the proposition passes.
“I am convinced that it is a very serious case of discrimination against second-language learners,” Basurto said. Outside the classroom, studies show, students who don’t learn English will have a harder time making a living.
A study released last year shows that Mexican immigrants increase their wages by 48 percent once they learn English, said Douglas Massey, author of the study and a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “By whatever means necessary, children need to learn English,” Massey said.
If they are skilled in two languages, students have a greater chance of succeeding in the workplace, and even moving ahead of English-only speakers. The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is receiving an increase in calls seeking bilingual employees, said Sergio Carlos, the chamber’s president.
Bilingual Hispanics made higher median incomes than those who only spoke English in three metropolitan areas — Miami, San Antonio and Jersey City, N.J., according to an analysis of 1990 census data by the University of Miami. In seven other cities, including Los Angeles, bilingual Hispanics made about the same or less.
No Arizona cities were analyzed.
Sandra Fradd, the study’s author and an education professor at the University of Miami, said the study shows bilingualism was making a difference a decade ago. Now, business is rapidly expanding outside the United States, making bilingualism even more important, Fradd said.
“The economy is evolving. The business community needs personnel that can carry on their business,” Fradd said. “That was 10 years ago. The pendulum has swung a different way.”
? Refer to engblish taking over world whicnside story. Ax Arizonans could soon vote to copy California in banning bilingual education. It’s an issue that fuels the fires of deep passion on both sides.
Bilingual education An instructional program for students with limited-English skills that uses the students’ native language part of the time.
Dual-language program A type of bilingual education that teaches students skills in two languages. Usually, the classes are evenly divided between students who speak English and those who speak another language.
English as a Second Language, or ESL A program that instructs limited-English-proficient students in the English language. Little or no instruction is given in a language other than English. Most commonly, students attend ESL classes for part of the day and spend the rest of their time in regular classes.
Immersion A program that teaches limited-English-proficient children without using their native languages.
How to get involved Backers of a proposal to replace bilingual education with English-only instruction are collecting signatures to gain a place on the Nov. 7 ballot in Arizona.
To vote ?Voter registration forms are available at post offices, libraries, city halls and Motor Vehicle Division offices, and can be requested through the Arizona secretary of state’s Web site: www.sosaz.com/election/ VoterRegistration.htm
?Deadline to register is Oct. 9 for the Nov. 7 election.
?For additional information, call the Pima County Recorder’s Office at 623-2649 or check the Web site: www.recorder.co.pima.az.us/
To work for the proposal: English for the Children-Arizona, Maria Mendoza, co-chairwoman, P.O. Box 27504, Tucson 85726-7504, phone 294-7212, e-mail [email protected]
To work against the proposal: Alejandra Sotomayor, Southern Arizona co-chairwoman, Arizona Language Education Council, P.O. Box 68815, Oro Valley 85737-0005, phone 721-2677, e-mail [email protected]; www.ALEC2000.org
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.