Regardless of Your Beliefs Regarding Bilingual Education…
by Jayni Flores
Aug 3, 2000

Regardless of what your beliefs regarding bilingual education are, put them aside for a few minutes (as long as it takes you to read this) and look at why Proposition 203, the Ron Unz-backed English for the Children of Arizona initiative is bad for Arizona's children, parents, and local schools.

Quoting the initiative, ""English language classroom' means a classroom in which English is the language of instruction used by the teaching personnel, and in which such teaching personnel possess a good knowledge of the English language….'Sheltered English Immersion' or 'Structured English Immersion' means an English language acquisition process for young children in which nearly all classroom instruction is in English…Although teachers may use a minimal amount of the child's native language when necessary…"

How do we measure if teaching personnel possess a "good knowledge" of English? Do we assume that because the State has issued her a teaching certificate a teacher possesses a good knowledge of English? How much is "nearly all" classroom instruction in English and "minimal amount" of usage of the child's native language? The backers of the initiative claim to want to have schools be more accountable for teaching English as quickly as possible. How can anyone be held accountable when these so-called standards cannot even be measured?

"Children who are English learners shall be educated through Sheltered English Immersion during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one year…." Sounds like it might work, if we had a year, but an academic year is anywhere from 174-180 days. And that assumes the child is in school every day. It further assumes that every day is an instructional day, but we know there are such things as field trips, picture day, assemblies, test days, etc. that interfere with instruction. Think you can learn academic language in less than 174 days be able to compete with proficient speakers of that language the following school year?

The proponents of the Unz initiative would have us believe that parents will still have a choice, as they do under current Arizona law, to continue to place their children in bilingual education, English as a Second Language, or any other program other than the one they are promoting. But here is what will really happen: "The requirements…may be waived with the prior written informed consent to be provided annually of the child's parents or legal guardian under the circumstances specified in this section…

"The circumstances in which a parental exception waiver may be applied for under this section are as follows:

"Children who already know English…

"… the child is 10 years or older…

"Children with special individual needs…A written description of no less than 250 words documenting these special individual needs for the specific child must be provided and permanently added to the child's official school records…"

I am one who does not believe that bilingual education has to be a compensatory program so a child who already knows English in a bilingual program, is an excellent idea. Furthermore, a child who is over 10 years of age will probably have a pretty decent foundation in her first language so learning a second language will be easier for her--certainly easier than for a five-or six-year old whose first language is still developing. But the third requirement, requiring a document of no less than 250 words which will become a permanent part of a child's official school records, which states that the child has physical or psychological problems? This is not the kind of "choice" I would want to make for my child simply because I want him to participate in any program I, an informed parent, think is best for him. Besides that, even if I did decide to label my child as a special needs child and provided the documentation, "Teachers and local school districts may reject waiver requests without explanation or legal consequence…." You call that choice? If your request can be denied in this area, does it set precedent so other requests parents make regarding their children's education can also be denied?

Finally, "Any school board member or other elected official or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refuses to implement the terms of this statute may be held personally liable for fees and actual and compensatory damages…Any individual found so liable shall be immediately removed from office, and shall be barred from holding any position of authority anywhere within the Arizona public school system for an additional period of five years."

Shall we let a Californian who has no education background take away the right from our local school boards and administrators to make decisions about the best way to educate Arizona's children? Furthermore, shall we give this California millionaire who has no financial worries the right to take away an Arizonan's ability to earn a living in her chosen profession? Does this carpetbagger have the right to tell us whom we can or cannot elect to run our local schools?

Are there schools districts in Arizona that need to do a better job with bilingual programs? Absolutely! Just as there are school districts that need to do a better job with their math program, their reading program, their science program, etc. but let's let Arizona education personnel make the needed changes, not an outsider who knows nothing about our schools and children.

Jayni Flores