State English-only policies are ineffective
Arizona Republic
Jul. 15, 2006

The Republic's Robert Robb believes the state's ban on using immigrant children's native language in the classroom, an outgrowth of Proposition 203, is promising ("Lessons in language," Opinions, July 7).

"Voters deserve a good-faith effort to implement the policy they adopted,"
Robb wrote, "and thus far they have not gotten it."

Actually, they have.

Indeed, state schools chief Tom Horne campaigned on a promise to implement a vigorous English-only interpretation of Proposition 203, and he has done so.
The approach seeks to teach children English within a year so they'll be able to understand school lessons taught in English alone.

But a study by Arizona State University researchers, including myself, found the approach failed to achieve this proficiency goal for 89 percent of the state's English learners.

That's hardly a promising result.

In addition, in recent years, three independent comprehensive reviews of relevant scientific evidence have appeared in peer-reviewed journals. Each found that children taught using their native language as well as English had higher academic achievement than those taught using English alone.

That's a more thorough review of evidence than one can find for many well-accepted medical procedures.

But rather than consult such sources, Robb tried to squeeze bits and pieces of evidence supporting the state's extremist English-only policies out of two recent think-tank reports that actually have nothing to do with language of instruction.

Robb suggests schools serving English learners should receive funding only if they are "certified by the superintendent as being Proposition 203 compliant."

But it is too often conveniently forgotten that Proposition 203 actually requires bilingual education under a parental waiver program, an option essentially unavailable under Horne's implementation.

Robb and others should keep this point in mind when relying on what "voters deserve" as justification for the state's extremist language education policies. -Jeff MacSwan, Chandler

The writer is associate professor of education in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University.