Tucson CitizenWednesday, June 28, 2000
English-Only Measure Will Be on Ballot
PHOENIX - Voters likely will decide the future of bilingual education in Arizona, with backers of an initiative that would gut public school bilingual programs yesterday filing more than enough signatures to get it on the November ballot.
The group English for Children, Arizona filed 165,000 signatures with the Secretary of State's Office. A total of 101,000 valid signatures of registered voters are required to put the measure before voters.
Opponents of bilingual education say English is not being taught in schools.
"Bilingual education became native language instruction in Spanish for the majority of Hispanics in Arizona, as it did in California, to the disfavor of many Mexican parents who were never heard," said Hector Ayala, a teacher at Cholla High Magnet School and co-chairman of English for Children Arizona.
"We found out when we organized two years ago that there were thousands of parents out there who were already dissatisfied," he said. Despite state law mandating that parents be given the option to keep their children out of bilingual programs, students remain trapped in the system, Ayala said.
"I think the option currently exists in the statutes only; it doesn't exist in the practice at all, in fact the parental choice option was never even an option," he said.
According to a study of the 1998-99 school year by the Arizona Department of Education, 5.7 percent of the students in English-acquisition programs were considered skilled enough to transfer to monolingual classes.
The initiative, Ayala said, will dismantle the bilingual education establishment. He says school districts, college professors and textbook publishers make up a $10 billion national operation.
Arizona schools spent more than $211 million in state and federal money on bilingual programs in 1999.
The initiative is modeled after a similar measure passed in 1998 in California. It is backed by the same controversial activist who pushed that campaign, Ron Unz.
Proponents argue other languages can still be used in the classroom, but they shouldn't be used for most instruction.
Opponents of the initiative say its real effect will be limits on parental choice that will ultimately damage non-English speaking students' chances of succeeding.
"It seems to me that this is an extremist, politically motivated proposal rather than a responsible plan for improving our public schools," said Alejandra Sotomayor, a Tucson Unified School District curriculum specialist and head of the Language Education Council.
Leonard Basurto, director of bilingual education and Mexican-American studies for TUSD, argues the state Education Department numbers don't reflect accurately the success of students in bilingual education, who become proficient in English at a rate of 15 percent a year. A 7 percent rate should be considered successful, he said.
Most second-language programs take three or four years to work, Basurto said, criticizing the one-year immersion program that is the hallmark of the initiative.
"The type of educational instructional program is a decision that should really be made by the teachers and parents," Basurto said.
If parents believe they're trapped in the system, then the law should be changed to strengthen the "opt in" and "opt out" provisions, but the whole system shouldn't be scrapped, said Richard Ruiz, a professor in the Department of Language, Reading and Culture at the University of Arizona.
Now, 1 percent of TUSD parents who could opt out of bilingual programs do so, he said.
Ruiz objects to the idea bilingual educators are in it for the money, a notion he finds galling.
"If bilingual education went away tomorrow, all of the bilingual teachers in town would have jobs because they are certified teachers," he said.
Ultimately, critics say they fear voters won't read the text of the initiative.
"The philosophy is icing on a cake. When you look and you cut into the cake, you discover the worms, and I don't know how many of our voters are going to sit and read the pages and see the implications," Sotomayor said.