Test Scores Don't Make Case For Banning Bilingual Ed
by O. Ricardo Pimentel
The Arizona Republic
August 24, 2000

You can quit sending me that New York Times piece trumpeting new test scores in California as proof positive that banning bilingual education is the right thing to do here in Arizona. Californians banned bilingual ed two years ago with Proposition 227. Arizonans have an initiative on the November ballot that would accomplish the same thing.

The problem: The California test scores don't prove much of anything, and the folks seizing on them know it or, if they don't, should. Let's walk through it again. These test scores mimic last year's increases in reading, math and language in California. And just like then, these scores don't make the case one way or the other for ending bilingual education. It does make good press, however.

Here are the key points made in an analysis by experts at Stanford University, including renowned expert Kenji Hakuta.

* The increases in scores are across the board.

That means students with limited English proficiency got better scores, but so did all other students, particularly in the lower grades. And the increases are in virtually identical patterns. In other words, teachers are likely drilling the kids - Spanish and English speakers - with the test. The first years of any new test anywhere generally shows good increases.

* The scores increased in schools that never had bilingual ed, so there's no connection to Proposition 227.

* The scores increased in school districts that retained bilingual ed.

(By the way - again - only about 20 percent of California's students with limited English proficiency were enrolled in bilingual ed before the initiative. Now it's about 13 percent.)

These test scores simply are inadequate tools for measuring the effectiveness of California's structured immersion plan. In California, non-English-speaking kids are allowed one year of intensive English instruction and then are sent into the mainstream. The California test more effectively measures the reading, language and math skills of native English speakers. For non-English speakers, it is merely measuring how well these kids, particularly in the lower grades, have been drilled in decoding and in phonics, skills that don't necessarily tell us anything about comprehension.

In trumpeting these scores, the anti-bilingual education folks are hanging their hats on alleged claims by initiative opponents that catastrophe would result if the initiative passed. They're saying, "OK, it hasn't been catastrophic, so we must be right."

Well, sometimes harm is years in the making. And, besides, the argument is a double-edged sword. These folks are trumpeting scores that, if we use their yardstick, identify these kids as seriously underperforming. No way, shape or form are they ready for the mainstream. And isn't that what the Proposition 227 folks told us banning bilingual ed would fix?

Guess what? It's not fixed. In fact, it's relatively unchanged. In fact, from 1997 to 2000, the number of kids "re-designated" - deemed now to be sufficiently proficient in English - has increased by only 1.1 percent.

But here's the thing: I would no more trust voters - or the ones whipping them up - to dictate education policy to educators than I would trust them to dictate medical procedures to doctors.

Reach Pimentel at or
(602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Bilingual Initiative Case Goes Before State Justices
By Howard Fischer
August 17, 2000

PHOENIX - The Arizona Supreme Court has agreed to decide if voters are being misled about the effects of an initiative to rid state schools of bilingual education programs.

Yesterday, the justices refused to block the Secretary of State's Office from printing voter pamphlets that contain disputed language on Proposition 203. But they agreed to hear the case as quickly as they can.

Time is of the essence: The last day for changing the pamphlet is next Thursday.

Proposition 203 would scrap bilingual education programs and force educators to teach only in English.

Students who enter school without English fluency would be placed in "structured English immersion" courses while continuing their regular school work.

Supporters say students who need more help would be able to get it.

Lawmakers who are members of the Legislative Council wrote what is supposed to be a neutral explanation of the measure. It appears in pamphlets given to all registered voters.

Attorney Hector Villagra, in legal papers filed with the Supreme Court, said legislators were not neutral.

For example, he said, the explanation says public schools have to provide bilingual education to students not fluent in English.

In fact, Villagra argued, most students participate in English as a Second Language programs, which he said are different.

Also yesterday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Myers set a hearing for next week on a proposal to require a two-thirds vote for approval of initiatives or referendums dealing with wildlife.

Foes of that measure contend that Proposition 102 cannot appear on the ballot at all because it violates requirements that constitutional amendments deal with a single subject.

That question will not be resolved by the deadline for printing ballot pamphlets as whoever loses will appeal to the Supreme Court.

That means the pamphlet could contain an explanation of the measure, even though it may not appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

2 Additional Initiatives Face Lawsuits
By Kathleen Ingley and Daniel Gonzalez
The Arizona Republic
August 16, 2000

The challenges to ballot propositions just keep coming.

Now there is a lawsuit to ax Proposition 102, which would make it harder to limit hunting and fishing, and another to change the official analysis of Proposition 203,  restricting bilingual education.

That makes half a dozen propositions that are under legal fire, and the deadlines  for printing voter guides and ballots are fast approaching.

Proposition 102 amends the Arizona Constitution to require the state to manage wildlife in public trust. It also requires two-thirds approval for initiatives that  permit, limit or prohibit the taking of wildlife, or the
methods or seasons for doing  so.

Attorney Stephanie Nichols-Young, who represents opponents, argues that Proposition 102 violates the requirement for constitutional amendments to stick to one subject.

A hearing is scheduled today in Maricopa County Superior Court on the suit she filed to boot the measure off the ballot.

Supporters pooh-pooh her lawsuit as frivolous.

 Proposition 102 "will stay on the ballot, and we'll continue on our way," said  Mike Hull, spokesman for Arizonans for Wildlife Conservation.

He says the measure will safeguard wildlife by ensuring that the Arizona Game and Fish Department isn't handcuffed by voter-imposed restrictions.

But Tom Woods, a former member of the State Game and Fish Commission,  says the proposition could backfire, thwarting propositions that hunters want.

The battle over Proposition 203 is over wording: the official analysis of the proposition in the voters guide.

A civil-rights organization argues that the analysis of the controversial anti-bilingual education initiative is "false and misleading."

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to reject the analysis, which was adopted by a bipartisan panel of legislators, and require new wording that is neutral, said Hector Villagra, a lawyer for the plaintiff.

Proposition 203 seeks to severely limit bilingual education in Arizona by requiring virtually all immigrant children with limited English skills to attend a one-year English immersion program.

If there isn't enough time to reword the analysis, which is legally required to be evenhanded, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund might ask the court to throw out the initiative altogether, Villagra said.

The lawsuit is a "last ditch effort" to keep the initiative off the ballot, responded Hector Ayala, co-chairmain of English for the Children, which supports Proposition 203.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that part of the analysis of another ballot measure - Proposition 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative - is biased. In that case, the paragraphs in question may be dropped rather than revised.

State Elections Director Jessica Funkhouser said the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund might have waited too long to challenge the analysis.

The pamphlet is being proofread and has already been translated into Spanish, she said.

Meanwhile, the State Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments on three propositions, all challenged over the "single-subject" rule: changes in managing and protecting state trust land; a proposal to abolish the state income tax and a revised method for setting telephone rates.

But even on a fast track, the court won't rule before the statewide voters guides have to go to the printers.

"We're extremely concerned about frustrating or confusing the voters," Funkhouser said.

Reach the reporters at
or (602) 444-8312 or
or (602) 444-8171.

Bilingual Kids Have An Academic Edge
by Joanne Laucius
Ottawa Citizen
May 1, 2000

Bilingual children develop problem-solving skills before children who speak only one language, says a
Canadian researcher who has spent almost 20 years studying how language affects learning in young children.

Learning two languages at an early age gives children an edge when it comes to processing information,
says Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at Toronto's York University who studied language development and
early literacy in hundreds of children.

"I'm finding over 20 years of research that learning two languages does change some early aspects of cognition."

The children she studied spoke French, Spanish, Chinese or Hebrew as well as English, and came from
middle-income backgrounds. The children in the control group were also from middle-income families, but they spoke
only English.

Bialystok found that bilingual children can figure out problems that contain misleading information at a younger age.
For example, children in both groups were told that moon means sun and sun means moon. Then they were asked
to think of the sky at night when the "sun" is up. What's the sky like? The correct answer is "dark."

In another problem, children were shown two "apartment buildings" made of blocks. One tower, the shorter one, was
made of many small blocks. The second tower, the taller one, was made of fewer large blocks. The bilingual children
were more likely to conclude that there were more apartments in the shorter tower.

Bilingual children show the ability to ignore misleading information a year before unilingual children, a skill that
boosts all kinds of problem-solving, Bialystok said.

"It turns out to be important," she said. "Bilingual kids are at least a year ahead. That's a big advantage."

Bialystok believes that bilingual children are able to "edit" their attention because they have to block out one
language when working in the other.

"Where you pay attention is one of the really important aspects of development," she said. "Languages are always
active. In order for them not to intrude, you have to turn them off. It spills into everything you're thinking of."

It doesn't appear to matter what two languages the children speak, Bialystok said. But she added that she doesn't
know how long bilingual children maintain their edge: "I have no evidence that they read earlier."

Bialystok doesn't know if bilingual children maintain their early leads, but she wants to find out. The kinds of test
researchers use on preschoolers and children in the primary grades aren't effective with older children, she said. "If
these differences are real, we'll see that bilingual adults process information much differently," she said.

Bialystok noted that there has been a long-running politically charged controversy over bilingualism's effects on
children and learning. She pointed out that her studies were with children who spoke two languages at home, and not
with children who learned a second language through an immersion program at school. But she added that being
exposed to only one language as a child isn't harmful.

2 Languages Better Than 1
Providence Journal
By LINDA BORG, Journal Staff Writer
April 2000

PROVIDENCE -- For most English-language learners, bilingual education is a one-way bridge that takes them from one side, where their native language is spoken, to the other, where another language is learned at the expense of the first.

 But Providence Schools Supt. Diana Lam was fortunate. She had a truly bilingual education in Peru, where she was raised. She learned to read, write and think in both Spanish and English from native speakers of both languages. She studied science and Peruvian history in Spanish and math in English.

``We did not travel back and forth across a bridge,'' Lam told 200 educators at Brown University yesterday.  ``We camped out and made a home there, internalizing two languages so we could own them for the rest of our lives. The bridge was sturdy enough . . . to span and celebrate the roots of two cultures and two languages.''

Lam was the keynote speaker at the Fourth Annual Claiborne Pell Educational Policy Seminar, sponsored by the Northeast Regional Educational Lab at Brown. This year's seminar focused on how educators can improve the way ``minority language speakers'' learn English and other crucial subject areas such as math and science.

Bilingual education will never make great gains, Lam said, unless educators and the public view the ability to speak more than one language as an asset, not a deficit.

Lam, who turned around the failing San Antonio schools when she was superintendent, strongly urged schools to require competency in two languages. Texas, for example, requires that all students study languages as a graduation requirement, and foreign language instruction begins as early as first or second grade.

Lam also spoke out strongly in favor of two-way bilingual education, in which students are taught in English and another language in a classroom that is typically divided into native speakers of English and native speakers of a second language.

Two-way programs allow students to progress academically in both languages and gain an appreciation of another culture, Lam said.

A study published recently by the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education found that bilingual students in two-way programs learned English 60 percent faster than students in traditional bilingual classes.

Lam said bilingual education ``has been shortchanged in two ways.'' Many bilingual teachers initially teach under a waiver because they are not yet fluent in two languages or because they haven't finished their training.

``Bilingual teachers have to be held to the same quality of teacher standards that other teachers are held to,'' Lam said. ``Being bilingual does not make us privy to any special wisdom or exemption.''

The common practice of requiring all bilingual teachers to teach in both languages, regardless of their native language or their second language skills, should also be scrutinized. Lam noted that she learned English composition from a native speaker of English, and was taught Spanish composition from someone who grew up speaking Spanish.

Lam ended on an upbeat note, saying that she is now encouraged that educators have found a new route by which to carry bilingualism into the new century:

``It is a two-way street, and yet, both ways lead to the same destination ---- a place where two languages are used without apology and where becoming proficient in both is considered a significant intellectual and cultural achievement. Now is the time to build our new bridge.''