English immersion is best for Arizona students
September 3, 2003
Guest Opinion: TOM HORNE
After three years of giving the defiant finger gesture to the law - a law that
passed by the voters almost two to one - bilingual advocates are upset that I've
begun to enforce the law.
Non-enforcement by my predecessors gave them a feeling of entitlement: the
responsibility to follow the law was for other people. They were entitled to
defy the law, and no one was going to take that way from them.
I ran for office promising to enforce the law: promise made - promise kept.
The Citizen editorial referred to this as an "autocratic approach." But three
years ago the Legislature passed a law that states that "the Department of
Education shall develop guidelines for the monitoring of school districts ...
for the purposes of insuring compliance with ... laws regarding English learners
That law was ignored for three long years by my predecessors. I respectfully
submit that performing my duty under the law is not an "autocratic approach."
The Citizen editorial stated that the guidelines that I issued were "overturned
by the State Attorney General's Office." That is mistaken. The attorney general
supported my guidelines, and that is why all districts have indicated an
intention to comply, a conclusion that was in doubt before the attorney
general's position was issued. Let me explain:
The controversial part of the bi-lingual guidelines that I issued was the
part setting minimum test scores for a student to demonstrate "good English
skills" in order to qualify for a bi-lingual waiver. For example, I specified a
four on the most commonly used test, referred to as the LAS Test, where some
school districts were using a three, which the publisher identifies as "limited
English skills" rather than "good English skills."
The attorney general specifically found that I did have the power to issue those
guidelines, but that the scores I set "must be supported by facts that establish
that the scores are average for students at the appropriate grade level ..."
I do have those facts to support the minimum scores established. For example,
the publisher of LAS has written to us: Consistently, the native English
speakers scored in the low to mid 90s (raw score). This is a five.
Some have objected that that is a national average rather than an Arizona
average. I don't know why anyone would believe that Arizona students speak
English more poorly than students nationally. However, note that the score set
forth in the guidelines last February was a four, not a five. Even if Arizona
students speak English more poorly than students nationally, the chance that
they speak that much more poorly, is exactly zero.
Furthermore, the publisher has written to us on this issue as well:
Although the statistics do not disaggregate where each state falls with average
LAS scores, it can be concluded that the national average would indeed reflect
the state of Arizona.
Similarly, the publisher of the IPT has written to us: "I have full confidence
that the results from the national normative sample should apply to Arizona."
Clearly, the guidelines issued by me are "supported by facts that establish that
the scores are the average for students at the appropriate grade level." By the
standards set forth by the attorney general, the guidelines I issued last
February were proper and enforceable.
What this is all about is what is in the best interests of the children. This is
shown in an article in Education Next, which is published by Harvard, Stanford,
and two research institutions. You can log on to the article at
www.educationnext.org then click the "Fall 2002" issue and review the article on
It establishes that students who have been in English immersion programs
outperform students who have been in bilingual programs, in that they have more
years in school; more of them enter college; they have a higher annual income;
and they exceed the bilingual students in entering high-status occupations by
almost two to one.
This result does not surprise me. When I was in the Legislature, before
Proposition 203 was passed, there was a bill to limit bilingual education to no
more than three years.
The director of Arizona's largest bilingual program came to the Legislature and
testified that, in bilingual programs, it takes seven years for a student to
become proficient in English. I thought that was scandalous. That meant that a
student who came to this country at age 13 would graduate from high school
without ever being proficient in English.
By contrast, in successful English immersion programs, such as the Walter
Douglas School in the Flowing Wells District, virtually all students become
fully proficient - including reading and writing skills - within three years.
The key is to make sure that all schools implement English immersion properly,
so that the students become proficient in English as quickly as possible, and
then can soar academically as individuals.
Last spring we conducted a Super Seminar, where more than 400 teachers of
English language were taught best practices in English immersion. We are totally
committed to continuing those kinds of services.
We cannot have a successful education system unless all children who come to
school not knowing English become proficient in English as quickly as possible,
and succeed academically. We are committed 100 percent to helping the schools
achieve that success.
Tom Horne is Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.