Some Facts About Proposition 203 
And Bilingual Education In Arizona
by Dr. Michael O. Peralta, Ph.D.
September 8, 2000

The November 2000 Arizona election has an initiative, Proposition 203, seeking to abolish Bilingual Education. If you plan to vote please take a little time and read the following facts about Bilingual Education in Arizona. Web sites are listed at the end so you can confirm these facts. Thank you for being a conscientious voter.

Bilingual Education Students Outperform English-Only 
In ENGLISH Reading Scores In All Grades

In 1998-1999, for the third year in a row, students learning English in Bilingual Education programs scored significantly higher in English reading than students enrolled in English-Only programs, according to the Arizona Dept of Education (ADE). 

Stanford 9 English Reading Scores for LEP Students
in Arizona Programs,  School Year 1998-99
(Percentiles and Normal Curve Equivalents)*
Bilingual Education
English Only
Bilingual Edge**
% ile
% ile
+ 1%
+ 11%
+ 14%
+ 3%
+ 1%
+ 5%
+ 9%
+ 21%
+ 32%
+ 24%
+ 8%
*Average scores are weighted to account for number of students tested. 
**Comparison of bilingual vs. English Only programs based on NCEs.
Source: Arizona Department of Education, English Acquisition Services: A Summary of Bilingual Education Programs and English as a Second Language Programs for School Year 1998-99 (January 2000)

The superiority of Bilingual Ed was remarkably consistent. English learners in Bilingual Education scored at higher levels than their English-Only counterparts at every grade level, for the third consecutive year – as long as the ADE has been reporting these scores. (Arizona Dept of Education, "2000 English Acquisition Services Report"

That bilingual education has a higher level of success than English-Only has been confirmed through several scientifically controlled studies. For example, (and this is just one of many)  Mortensen (1984) compared grade 4, 5 and 6 Spanish speaking students in two programs, a bilingual program with transitioning to English reading in grade 3, and a monolingual English program. According to Mortensen, subjects in the two programs lived in "close proximity" to each other, and were from a similar socioeconomic background. Mortensen reported that the bilingual education students did statistically / significantly better on a test of comprehension skills.  (Mortensen, E. 1984. “Reading achievement of native Spanish-speaking elementary students in bilingual vs. monolingual programs,” Bilingual Review  11(3): 31-36.) (Note: Statistically Significant is not just a descriptive term -- in the field of statistics it means that the difference observed is more than random variation and the comparison meets a rigorous test of statistical validity.)

It is also important to note that less than 6% of Arizona students are in Bilingual Education. It seems somewhat heavy handed that it will not be the parents of Bilingual Education students that will get to decide the outcome of Proposition 203.

Reclassification Rates For Bilingual Education
Are Significantly Higher Than For English-Only 

Reclassification rate is the percentage at which English learners reach a specific English reading threshold (NCE=43 in Arizona), at which point the student can be placed in a regular classroom. Nogales Unified School District (other AZ School Districts are similar) reported a reclassification rate of 12% for Bilingual Education students as compared to a rate of 3% for English-Only students.  (Arizona Daily Star, March 18, 2000) 

Abolishing Bilingual Education Will NOT Save Money

In Arizona, the Bilingual Education budget is only 0.1% of the total education budget. This is based on figures reported to the U.S. District Court (Jan 2000, Judge Alfredo Marquez). There it was reported that only $150 per student was allocated for English Learners – whether they were in Bilingual Education or English-Only programs. Getting rid of Bilingual Education will only abolish a proven and superior form of teaching English-Learners – it would not save money, it would even cost more, since the student would have to be moved over to the English-Only form in which the student would have to stay longer since reclassification rates are much lower for English-Only programs. 

In addition to the above realities, Prop 203 does not call for any reduction in spending (Initiative Sect 15-752): “Current Per Capita Supplemental Funding For English Learners Shall Be Maintained”. In short, getting rid of Bilingual Education would not save the taxpayer any money and would in fact cost the taxpayer more. (Note: For all student types education cost per student = $6000)

Bilingual Education Students Have Lower Drop-Out Rates

Between the years 1917 and 1967 Tucson, AZ had a 1-Year English Immersion program called “1C” virtually identical to the one being proposed in Prop 203. During this period of time, the Hispanic Drop-Out rate was over 60% and for Native-Americans it was even higher. In more recent data (1999), the Arizona Statewide Hispanic Dropout Rate was 17%, whereas the Hispanic Bilingual Student dropout rate was less than 6%. (Tucson Unified School District) Clearly, Bilingual Education results in much lower dropout rates.

In fact, there is substantial evidence from scientifically controlled studies that Bilingual Education results in significantly lower dropout rates. ( Curiel,H., J.Rosenthal, and H.Richek. 1986. "Impacts of Bilingual Education on Secondary School Grades, Attendance, Retentions and Dropouts." Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 8 (4):357-367) Curiel, et al, compared dropout rates for students who went through one or more years of bilingual education against a similar group who did not have bilingual education. Curiel et al, reported that those who had bilingual education were significantly less likely to drop out (23.5% versus 43%). 

Parents Should Decide For Their Own Children

Currently Arizona statutes give parents the right to decide to put their children in Bilingual Education or English-Only programs. The worst and most dangerous aspect of Prop 203 is that, it would strip the parents of their rights to decide the best education program for their children. This is one place where we need to be fair minded to minority groups. Although the children in the majority may not need Bilingual Education to succeed, there are many other parents who need this option for their children. 

In an initiative, a majority can always over-rule and suppress the rights of a minority. Let us be careful not to do this. Let us keep the decision of what educational programs to give the children in the hands of their parents and local school boards. Currently this is the choice parents have. In fact, last year of the 16,000 parents with children in Bilingual Education only 66 chose to pull their children from Bilingual Ed. The rest (99.6%) freely and overwhelmingly chose to keep their children in Bilingual Education. (Dr. Leonard Basurto, Tucson Unified School District, Arizona Daily Star, April 2000)

Prop 203 allows a waiver only under 3 very restrictive conditions: (1) If children already know English, (2) If they are 10 years or older, or (3) If they have “special psychological needs” (i.e. mentally retarded) -- which must permanently be recorded in the child’s record thereby fixing a stigma to the student. Although Prop 203 has a waiver clause, practically it is merely an illusion designed to mislead voters into thinking parents would have a choice. Even when a parent goes through all the waiver requirements, for the relatively few children that meet the waiver criteria, the initiative states (Initiative Sect 15-753.B.3):

“Teachers And Local School Districts May Reject Waiver Requests Without Explanation Or Legal Consequence. The Existence Of Such Special Individual Needs Shall Not Compel Issuance Of A Waiver.” 

For the first time in Arizona history public school employees would be given power to refuse a parent's requests for information about decisions the school has made concerning their child and NOT EVEN the courts could help parents seeking answers about the education for their children. As you can see, this initiative indeed strips parents of their rights. 

In addition to being mean-spirited to parents and children, the initiative could personally bankrupt School Board members, Elected Officials, Administrators, as well as threaten teachers’ jobs. In the initiative it reads (Initiative Sect 15-754): 

“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..And Cannot Be Subsequently Indemnified For Such Assessed Damages By Any Public or Private Third Party.”

Notice here that they cannot even get insurance against lawsuits [Cannot Be Indemnified]. Ron Unz, the author of Proposition 203 frequently reminded educators in California that – unless they followed his restrictive interpretation of the law – they could be held personally liable for financial damages: "There is a real possibility that some administrators and teachers will lose their homes and be forced into bankruptcy over this" (Los Angeles Times, 2 September 1998). Indeed, this initiative is extremely mean-spirited to those who are trying to educate our children.

Once It Is Law, Policy Could Not Be Changed
By Parents Or Local School Boards

Prop 203 allows only 1 year (165 school days) for students to learn English. All language experts state that this is not even close to enough for academic success. The problem with Prop 203 is that when it starts failing children (or even to try to make improvements)  -- parents, teachers, and school boards will have no power to change the policy. It could only be amended by the Arizona legislature (Sect 15-755). But for an amendment it takes a vote of at least three-fourths of members of each house of legislature and approval by the governor – a very difficult prospect. So we see that instead of giving more power to the people, Prop 203 would give those affected by the policy less power. Isn't government supposed to be for the people affected by that government and not against them? Or is it that this right belongs to everyone except minorities?

Prop 203 is a direct assault on parental rights and against a minority group of parents who care deeply about their children's success -- and freely and overwhelmingly re-select bilingual education to realize that success. No one cares more about their children than their parents.

This time, this proposition may be about a program that doesn’t affect your children, but there may come a day when another may affect your children. As voters let us send a clear message to all initiative proposers that we will not allow parental rights to be infringed – for any group of parents. Vote NO on Proposition 203 !

Protect Parental Rights, 
Vote NO On Proposition 203


Arizona Dept of Education, "2000 English Acquisition Services Report":

Proposition 203:

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