English-Language Learners

English Learners & Immigrants

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 12, 2001 2 min read
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Prop. 203: Arizona school officials haven’t yet calculated how much a state law aimed at curtailing bilingual education has reduced such programs statewide. But the impact on the Tucson school district, which has the state’s largest bilingual program, has been significant.

The 63,000-student district has cut its bilingual education program by more than half as it seeks to comply with the law, Proposition 203. Under the measure, school districts are required to use English-immersion methods to teach English-language learners.

Tucson runs what it calls a “maintenance” bilingual education program, in which some students have the option of receiving instruction in their native languages from kindergarten through 8th grade. The goal is to support students in remaining bilingual after they have learned English. Some instruction can continue into high school.

Proposition 203 permits parents to request that a son or daughter remain in a bilingual education program. If parents sign such waivers, districts must provide bilingual education.

Voters approved the new law last November, and the deadline for its implementation was set for the start of this school year.

So in the Tucson schools, while the district enrolled 4,800 students in bilingual education last school year, this year the district enrolled 2,000 students in such programs—the number for which it received waivers.

The Tucson district has used bilingual education—in which students are taught academic subjects in their native languages while learning English—as an important means of instructing English-language learners for three decades.

Last year, the district provided bilingual education to three times the number of students that it provided English-as-a-second-language instruction. But because of Proposition 203, English immersion has now overtaken bilingual education as the main method of instruction.

Rebecca R. Montaño, the Tucson district’s associate superintendent, declined to speculate on what the change would mean for English-language learners. She said only that “we’re trying to be methodical to make sure we provide the best support.”

The state education department released a report last week offering guidance on the implementation of Proposition 203, which it said should have been in place by July 1. Some education leaders in the state had hoped that such a report might have been provided to educators sooner in the process. The report is available from the department’s Web site at www.ade.az.gov/asd/lep.asp.

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