The debate over who’s failing Arizona’s non-English-speaking students breaks down along established fault lines. As in: It’s your fault if you support (pick one) 1) bilingual education, 2) immersion, 3) English as a second language.
So it’s not too surprising that a legislative committee created to recommend the best way to educate these students has apparently reached an impasse.
This is unacceptable.
Arizona has nearly 200,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students whose first language is something other than English. Evidence that the state is not doing a good job of educating them can be found in reports from the Department of Education, an initiative drive and a class-action federal lawsuit.
For the sake of those children – and its own future – Arizona must do better.
But committee members Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez and Rep. Laura Knaperek, who were on opposite sides of the issue last legislative session, remain in deep disagreement as the committee attempts to come up with recommendations.
Lopez continues to champion efforts to improve bilingual education through enhanced monitoring and increased funding. Knaperek says “beefing up the existing system is not what I intended to do.”
There is no consensus.
Adding to the confusion is the initiative drive by a group that wants Arizona to embrace a California-style ban on bilingual education, and the lawsuit contending that the state is not providing the resources to properly educate limited-English students.
The initiative and the lawsuit testify to the Legislature’s historic inability to do its job, which, though not surprising, is utterly unacceptable. The shortcomings of this latest committee cannot be used as an excuse to perpetuate that failure.
Lawmakers need to embrace reasoned reform that will recognize the value of bilingual education as a tool for educating students who have limited English skills. They need to find answers that acknowledge the uniqueness of individual students, reject one-size- fits all solutions and address teacher shortages. They have to identify effective programs and help schools embrace and implement them.
Knaperek suggested assigning the problem to a broader-based committee representing the colleges of education, the Governor’s Office, the Department of Education, and members of the public in addition to lawmakers. She may be right.
Such a group might be able to come up with the solutions Arizona needs.
But only if all interested parties show the courage to bridge the fault lines with good will and focus on the needs of children, not ideology.
For more information, visit the Web sites:
* National Association for Bilingual Education
* English for the Children Arizona