Backers of a drive to end bilingual education are proposing to destroy a teaching program with little thought to the consequences.
Their idea falls short on several levels.
Using the initiative process to set school curriculum invites voter mischief. Imagine what the state’s science curriculum would look like if creationism were mandated through a successful initiative drive. We can predict that public-school curricula would change every two years at the whim of the loudest special-interest group.
Beyond that, voter-approved initiatives allow elected officials and public leaders to sidestep their decision-making responsibilities. Leadership at the legislative level has become an infrequent act of courage. Politicians now prefer to let public opinion polls and then the initiative process make decisions for them.
House Education Committee Chairman Dan Schottel, R-Tucson, rightly opposes any sort of initiative because there is little debate and little opportunity to educate voters.
In the latest drive, several teachers and parents in the Tucson Unified School District have joined to end bilingual education by taking it to the ballot. If successful, schools would limit non- English speakers to a one-year immersion program.
One mother says she wants her children to learn English so they can teach her to speak. Unfortunately, she has reversed roles with her children. It is she who must learn to speak English, and then help her children do the same.
If, as she says, her children aren’t learning English fast enough, then she must make sure that they do. Nothing in the educational process, especially bilingual education, allows parents to ever opt out of their children’s schooling.
If the measure passes, parents must look ahead to the time after their non-English-speaking children have completed the immersion process. If the children are not yet English proficient, then their educational options have been exhausted. The children are left to pursue an education with their limited English.
In recent years, the effectiveness of bilingual education has been seriously and publicly questioned. So far, TUSD administrators have been largely reluctant to acknowledge that there may be shortcomings to the system. That may have a little something to do with the current initiative drive.
California voters scrapped bilingual education earlier this year. And this week students are returning to find that the schools aren’t prepared for the immersion process.
There, as in Arizona, the question remains: How will a student who is not proficient in English learn the language after exhausting the one-year program?
This initiative not only ties the hands of educators, it may very well harm the students it is supposed to help.