Students Get Place in Jobless Line

Achievement Rate Low, Dropout Rate High for Hispanics

Hector Ayala is co-director of English for the Children – Arizona, a Tucson- based group gathering signatures to place a bilingual education ban on the general-election ballot in 2000. He teaches English at Cholla High School in Tucson. He was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was nine years old. Readers are invited to submit columns of up to 625 words.

When bilingual education was initiated in 1968, no one could have imagined that it would one day become such a financial cash cow — a cottage industry that costs Arizona taxpayers $75 million annually.

Even if Arizonans had known at the outset what it would cost, they might not have opposed bilingual education, for its tacit promise was to teach English to all Mexican-American students quickly and well.

Yet 30 years later, it has become clear that, as an academic aid, bilingual education has done little, if anything, to better the lot of the Hispanic student anywhere in the country. Not surprisingly, California has abolished bilingual education and we, in Arizona, stand to do the same.

For years, we have seen in Arizona how blatantly bilingual education compromises Hispanic students. As a teacher in a bilingual feeder pattern for 13 years, I have been a witness to the devastation. Since the inception of bilingual education, we have been bombarded by anti-bilingual education testimonials from angry parents, students, teachers and administrators from around the state. Many of these parents and others have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

English for the Children – Arizona, which is pushing for a ballot measure to end bilingual education, is committed to seeing all minority children develop the necessary skills to become successful, productive citizens. Unfortunately, the issue has become so politicized that we, and our supporters, are continually called racists and sellouts, all for wanting nothing more than the total success of all students.

Again and again we have heard the platitudes and the lies. The public is repeatedly told that bilingual education not only teaches English, but that it teaches Spanish as well which, it has also been said, is what it was designed to do. Neither is true.

Bilingual education was initiated to teach English, not Spanish. Moreover, experts have said that bilingual education in its current practice has never been proven to teach even English, let alone both languages.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Keegan and her department have said on several occasions that the achievement and promotion rates of Hispanics into mainstream classrooms has been horrendous, less than 3 percent yearly. In Tucson, as we have found in other areas around Arizona, Mexican students typically have the lowest graduation rates and some of the highest dropout rates.

Another point stressed by supporters of bilingual education is that teaching Spanish and English to Mexican children can only increase their sense of self-esteem and marketability. This would be true if these children spoke English already, and Spanish were their foreign language.

But this is not the case. It is ironic that so many students in this country are almost being forced to learn a foreign language for its importance in a global community. Yet when Mexican students want to learn English — a foreign language to them — they are prevented by the bilingual education bureaucracy, which typically places them in native language classrooms without their parents’ knowledge or permission, often for several years.

To keep English from these students amounts to patent racism, and bilingual education has been guilty of it for years. The only thing bilingual education is capable of promising Hispanic students at this point is a place in the unemployment line. This must end if we want Hispanic voices to be heard.

All students need to speak English at high academic levels to succeed in this country. We must immerse them rigorously in it. All the romance in the world concerning children and their native language will not compensate them for an inability to participate in this ever-changing, English-speaking world economy.

This is why English for the Children – Arizona is committed to ending bilingual education statewide.

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