Editorial Boards of All Major Arizona
Newspapers Say NO on Prop 203

Includes the opinions of the Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), Tucson Citizen (Tucson), the East Valley Tribune (Phoenix), and the Arizona Daily Sun, (Flagstaff)

Arizona Republic 
Editorial Board Opinion
Sept. 17, 2000 

Ban on bilingual ed poisonous for state 
California import should head back west 

Fact No. 1: Arizona does a poor job of educating children who speak little or no English. 

Fact No. 2: Bilingual education is one of several techniques used in Arizona to educate these children. 

The mistaken premise born of an uncritical look at these two facts: Bilingual education is to blame for poor student achievement. 

Prop. 203, the so-called English for the Children initiative, takes that erroneous assumption to a ridiculous extreme by proposing to improve education in Arizona by eliminating bilingual programs. 

It is the wrong answer. 

Voters should reject this measure. 

Only about a third of the students in Arizona who have limited proficiency in English are in bilingual programs. It is one of a variety of educational options available to parents and school districts. It cannot possibly be the sole reason for the success or failure of the entire population of students with limited English skills. 

Ironically, statistics from the Arizona Department of Education suggest that bilingual education is the most successful of the methods in use with these students, according to an analysis of three years worth of achievement test scores by the Arizona Language Education Council. 

It needs to be improved and expanded, not eliminated. 

Replacing bilingual education with one-year English-only "immersion" classes would be a tragic return to a system that failed generations of Mexican-Americans and Native Americans. 

When such immersion programs were used at Tucson Unified School District from 1919 to 1967, graduation rates for Latinos never rose above 40 percent. 

Today, that school district's comprehensive bilingual program is credited with a Latino dropout rate of less than 8 percent, says Alejandra Sotomayor, curriculum specialist at TUSD and co-chair of the Arizona Language Education Council. That compares favorably with a statewide dropout rate for Latino students of 17 percent. 

Districts such as TUSD that support good bilingual programs do so with little help from the Legislature. 

The state currently spends far less to educate students who don't speak English than a 1988 study said was necessary. In January, a federal judge said that miserly funding amounts to discrimination against non-English speaking students. 

Inadequate funding, not bilingual education, should be the target of those who want to improve education for children who do not speak English. 

Supporters of Prop. 203, a clone of a California measure that passed two years ago, point to recent test-score gains by California students to justify importing their poison proposition to Arizona. But the crowing is as mistaken as their premise. 

The improved scores in California were across the board, not limited to students who had formerly been in bilingual programs. In addition, those improved scores came after California mandated smaller class sizes and launched a reading program that stressed phonics. 

Supporters of the proposed ban on bilingual education are also fond of saying that Arizona is home to children who speak 72 different languages. Teachers can't be found to offer bilingual instruction in all those languages, they say. 

This time they are right. In fact, there aren't enough bilingual teachers to offer instruction in Spanish, Navajo, Apache or Hopi. 

But when teachers can be found, good bilingual programs can help students succeed. It is a valuable educational tool that should remain an option for parents and schools. 

It should not be banned. 

Prop. 203 should not become law.

Arizona Daily Star 
Editorial Board Opinion
Tucson, Arizona
Tuesday, 24 October 2000

No on Prop. 203

If, for no other reason, the ballot proposition to ban bilingual education should be rejected for its divisive qualities. Those not convinced need only consider that Proposition 203 is aimed at one specific ethnic group. While it bans all bilingual education, including programs on the Navajo reservation, the students in Arizona's programs are by and large of Hispanic origin. For Hispanics, this proposition definitely has a punitive feel to it. 

Most news stories include comments of proponents of the bilingual ban. In each, readers get the unmistakable feeling that advocates of the ban believe that Hispanics in bilingual education programs are somehow getting more than their share of educational booty. 

There may be some merit to that because when bilingual programs are done right, students should become proficient in both languages. The solution to that problem - if it is a problem - should be to make second-language learning more available for all students. 

Another good reason to turn this down: choice. Forget for a minute that this movement was imported by a wealthy Californian who convinced voters in that state to end bilingual education. 

Instead, consider that parental choice and local control will be usurped by a sweeping statewide ballot proposition. In essence, local control will be eliminated by a law mandating statewide educational practices. Parents who would prefer to place their children in a bilingual program would have to seek a waiver, which may not be granted. 

Now, let's also consider that English proficiency is the goal of both bilingual education and the Ron Unz backers of Prop. 203. No one can honestly believe that parents would not want their child to speak proper English. We'll take as a given that both the pro- and anti-bilingual crowds are shooting for the same outcome - the mastery of the language and educational achievement. 

Using that assumption, it makes no sense that limiting the methods of teaching would be something voters of this state would favor. The proposition makes no provision for children whose best educational option - bilingual education - would be unavailable to them. Nor does it address the socio-economic factors - widely known as the greatest detriment to educational achievement. 

A recent news story told of the success of children in a California school district where bilingual education was banned. But there was no mention that improved test scores have been recorded in California by students throughout the state, not just those of Hispanic origin. And much of that can be traced to educational practices instituted throughout the state that educators know have positive impacts on education - such as smaller class sizes. 

But the more revealing details included information showing that even children in immersion programs take up to three years before becoming proficient in the language. 

The finer points of educating language-minority students should not be decided at the ballot box. And this proposition does that - micromanage Hispanic students who lack English skills. It offers no reasonable compromise, especially for parents and educators who should determine the best course for a child. 

This proposition is bad public policy. More than that, it is a divisive, morally questionable idea that should not become state law. Vote no on Prop. 203.


The Arizona Daily Star also published back in April 2000:

Arizona Daily Star 
Tucson, Arizona
Editorial Board Opinion
Monday, 24 April 2000

Bilingual remedies

Bilingual education is a difficult public policy issue, partly because emotions are so inflamed, and partly because it is a debate built on sand.

The underlying justifications for bilingual education seem constantly to shift, depending on the speaker, as do the accusations against it. Even so, there are two core issues that both supporters and opponents of bilingual education should be able to agree on.

First, when a student has only limited ability to understand, read, speak and write English, the schools must help him or her learn English as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Second, the English-for-the-Children initiative, which would outlaw bilingual education, is an inappropriate public policy intrusion into the rights of parents, educators and schools.

Proponents of the initiative are collecting signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot. Expectations are they will gather sufficient signatures. The initiative, which is being financed primarily by California millionaire Ron Unz, would allow non-English-speaking students to be placed for one year in an English-immersion class.

It allows parents to enroll their children in bilingual classes only if they request a waiver. The key problem with the initiative is that it takes a decision that should be made by parents and educators and writes it instead into law.

Bilingual education may be the best solution for some students. Immersion may be better for others. But these are judgments to be made individually, by parents and professionals considering each child, not by a meat-cleaver state law. The very best course of action is for voters to refuse to sign the initiative. If Unz and other English-only backers fail to get their initiative on the ballot, then calm might prevail.

As long as the ballot issue boils, the questions about bilingual eduation will be posed in political rather than educational terms. It will be difficult to focus on such important issues as how to educate students with limited English.

It is important to keep in mind that the initiative is not about the effectiveness of any particular bilingual program. It is not about the benefits of being able to speak another language in an increasingly multicultural world. It is not about the benefits of students of Hispanic heritage learning an appreciation for the cultures from which they and their parents came. Nor is it about the best ways to teach Anglo students Spanish. Those are all important issues. But the initiative addresses none of them.

Here is what the initiative is about. The initiative wants voters to restrict the ability of teachers to make professional decisions about how they teach students. And the initiative wants to restrict the ability of parents to choose the education that they believe is best for their children.

Readers of these pages know that we express a great deal of skepticism about the effectiveness of bilingual education as it is currently structured. We have bemoaned the failure of bilingual education to move students into the mainstream in an effective manner.

However, this initiative is no way to fix those problems. The initiative should fail. It is poor public policy.

Educators should recognize, however, that the initiative does carry an important message: There is an abiding distrust of the educators in charge of bilingual education.

Educators need to acknowledge, too, that they cannot reverse that distrust with fuzzy goals, undefined criteria and poor measurement of performance.

Educators should fight the initiative. Yet at the same time, they should accept its message that they need to deal with the problem.

Tucson Citizen 
Editorial Board Opinion
October 9, 2000

Our Opinion 
No on 203: Don't eliminate parental choice 

It seems like a noble undertaking: Require Arizona children who don't speak English fluently to learn it as quickly as possible so they can be assimilated into the mainstream of American life. And supporters of Proposition 203 hope voters will probe no deeper into the measure before next month's general election. 

But take a look at the details of the proposition and it immediately becomes apparent that this is a hateful, divisive initiative designed to force all children to be taught the same way - regardless of the needs of individual children, the professional opinions of educators or the wishes of parents. If passed by voters, the proposition would repeal bilingual education laws and require that all classes be taught in English. Pupils not fluent in English would be given one year to learn the language - a year during which they also would be expected to learn other subjects and keep up with their English-speaking peers.  Fix bilingual education, don't eliminate it 

There is no doubt that there are serious problems with Arizona's bilingual education system. Students can languish in the programs for years, never becoming proficient enough in English to move into regular classes. There have been attempts in the Legislature to put a limit on how long students can be in bilingual education classes. Three years has been seen as a reasonable period. But those efforts have failed. 

Nonetheless, Proposition 203's approach - to force all children to learn English in only one year - is not the answer.  This is not a new idea. It is a throwback to a way of teaching that has been tried and rejected. From 1917 to 1967, the Tucson Unified School District had a virtually identical "learn-it-quick-or-else" program. More than 60 percent of Hispanic students dropped out of school. 

Under current bilingual education programs, which would be banned by Proposition 203, the Hispanic dropout rate is 17 percent. And only 6 percent of Hispanic students in bilingual programs drop out. 

Proposition would eliminate parents' choice  Parents who do not want their children taught in bilingual education classes can now opt out. But the initiative would forbid more than one year of bilingual instruction unless a parent wrote a 250-word statement explaining what "special needs" the child has that require more time. Schools could accept or reject the request "without explanation or legal consequence." 

Why should parents be denied the opportunity to place their children in any legitimate education program they wish? Teachers would also be prohibited from using their professional judgment in deciding how best to teach individual students. 

Arizonans did not ask for this polarizing measure to be placed on the ballot. It is on only because a California multimillionaire got a similar measure passed in California. Thus emboldened, he came to Arizona, wrote a more restrictive initiative and has spent more than $130,000 to tell us how to teach our children. He is the only person who has contributed money to the passage of Proposition 203. 

Bilingual education should be improved, not junked. Arizona does not need this divisive measure cleaving our state. The Citizen strongly urges a "No" vote on Proposition 203. 

We should point out two things: 

(1) There has been no official report documenting failures or problems in bilingual education. It is heresay and anecdotal. There are probably more stories about bad algebra classes. 

(2) If 203 passes, there is no going back. If it passes, it is nearly impossible to get it modified, let alone removed:

Sec. 5 of Prop 203. Application 
"The provisions of this act cannot be waived, modified, or set aside by any elected or appointed official or administrator, except as through the amendment process provided for in the Arizona constitution. " 

East Valley Tribune
Phoenix, Arizona
Editorial Board Opinion
Wednesday, October 11, 2000

NO on 203
Anti-bilingual ed measure
deprives parents of choice

A surge in test scores among California's immigrant school children since an anti-bilingual initiative passed there two years ago is boosting a similar proposition on Arizona's general election ballot.

However, the Arizona measure, Proposition 203, is deeply flawed. It effectively would end bilingual or dual-language programs for all Arizona students, even those whose parents want their children in such programs.

That is wrong.

Proposition 203 is inconsistent with the sound principle of educational choice, which this newspaper and many conservative state officials have championed.

Choice proponents such as U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who is helping spearhead the Proposition 203 campaign, have failed to make a credible case for abandoning choice when it comes to language instruction.

Yes, there's a waiver provision in the measure, but it's so restrictive that parents seeking bilingual programs for their children would have to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops, with no guarantee that they would succeed. The proposition's requirement that "all public school instruction be conducted in English" would outlaw even public charter schools from offering dual-language instruction.

That is wrong.

Parents should have choices. And the pro-203 argument that many immigrant parents don't have choice now - that their children are languishing in bilingual classes - doesn't justify a different brand of non-choice.

While California's initiative pushes schools toward English immersion, which gets kids proficient in the language of success in about a year, the law also requires schools to offer alternatives for parents requesting them. Indeed, the Oceanside school district, which boasts some of the biggest test-score gains among immigrant children since 1998, may be sanctioned by the state for failing to provide choice.

There are many good arguments for school choice. One is that average test scores don't tell the whole story, and curriculum for all students shouldn't be designed exclusively around them.

The truth is that kids - and parents - are different, and those differences must be recognized and respected. There are differences in talent and interests among students, and differences in philosophy and expectations among parents.

Immigrant parents wanting an English immersion program for their children should be able to get it. Parents wanting a multicultural, bilingual program for their children should be able to get it.  Conversely, no law should threaten cultural enrichment programs such as those emerging on the Navajo Reservation that teach youngsters the native language and customs of their elders. Proposition 203 would do just that.

Voters who value educational performance but reject educational mandates should vote no on Proposition 203 and demand a better solution to legitimate concerns over poor English proficiency and test scores among many immigrant children.

A solution that provides real choice.

Arizona Daily Sun
Flagstaff, Arizona
Editorial Board Opinion
Oct. 21, 2000

Arizona can't afford English-only 'solution'

There are two propositions dealing with education on this year's fall  ballot, and neither involves a very close call.

The first, Prop. 203, calls for only English to be taught in Arizona classrooms and for students not fluent in English to be placed in a one-year intensive English immersion program. Such a proposal is unnecessary and circumvents local control. We urge a no vote.

The second is Prop. 301, which would raise the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.6 percent, with the extra $450 million a year dedicated to K-12 schools and workforce development at universities and community college. With a flush state treasury and a state that lags behind almost every other state in per capita spending on education, there is no better time to prime the education pump, and do it with a tax that is paid in part by out-of-staters. We strongly urge a yes vote.

The proponents of Prop. 203 contend that bilingual education fails its students by keeping them for learning English. But studies have shown that bilingual classes, if taught correctly, do work and work well. The proponents of English immersion also contend that such a system works better than a bilingual curriculum. But the test results from California show test scores improving for students in both types of classrooms.

So why remove the bilingual option? Parents already have the right to remove their children from such classes at any time. And many Navajo parents prefer bilingual classes in public schools (including Leupp and Tuba City) as a way to save American Indian languages from extinction.

So what's up here? Have we missed some groundswell of discontent with bilingual education in Arizona that has been unleashed now that Californian Ron Unz, who pushed a similar initiative in his home state, has made his millions available to Hispanic leaders?

Based on the ballot arguments published by the Secretary of the State in the voter guide, just the opposite appears to be true. There is strong opposition to Prop. 203 by groups like the Mexican American Political Association and the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum, not to mention the Navajo Nation.

Yes, teachers' groups professors of education have weighed in against Prop. 203, but that's to be expected: They have a vested interest in the status quo, which is bilingual education. We would hope some school districts would offer English immersion as an option to students who aren't fluent in English, but so far parents don't seem to be demanding it.

The major problem for us with Prop. 203 is one we find in other statewide initiatives: an attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on a "problem" that local elected officials are perfectly capable of fixing -- if indeed it exists. Arizona school districts already are held accountable if their students can't pass reading and writing tests that are given in English. If it turns out that bilingual education is the culprit, we're confident local
school boards will take steps to change the curriculum.

But it may just be that students who enter school without English as their primary language will take longer and find it more difficult to become proficient in English. Schools with more of those kinds of students deserve more resources to help them overcome higher hurdles than other schools face. Limiting the "solution" to one year of English immersion seems designed to short-circuit other creative approaches and discourage all but the most adept non-English-speaking students from learning English and therefore succeeding in school.

That's not a result Arizona can afford, and it therefore can't afford Proposition 203.