Down is Up in Arizona Schools

Those who have followed the convoluted, counter- intuitive political history of the “English” movement will not be surprised to learn that the educational leadership of conservative, rock-ribbed Republican Arizona is engaging in a far more widespread and determined effort to circumvent the choice of 63% of its voters than did heavily Democratic California.

Earlier this year, Republican Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan, long the national poster-girl of the conservative educational reform movement, publicly announced that Proposition 203 did not carry legal weight in Arizona schools on the grounds that she did not agree with its educational philosophy. The resulting firestorm of public anger forced her to retract and disavow those statements, and perhaps helped prompt her sudden and unexpected resignation from office a few months later, though the latter event certainly had a multitude of contributing causes. By many accounts, Ms. Keegan was among the worst and most unpopular superintendents in recent Arizona history.

Now that Keegan is gone and the new Arizona school year has begun, legal efforts to allow school districts to avoid implementing the measure have taken a more circumspect and certainly more bizarre path. Under the terms of Proposition 203, school districts may under certain circumstances grant waivers to allow students to remain in non-English programs. However, although these exemption waivers are relatively easy to obtain for students who already know English or students who are ten years or older, they are more restricted for the remaining, younger students, who actually constitute the bulk of the existing enrollees in the bilingual programs. For these, actual evidence must be provided that the program is educationally beneficial, and they must be provided at least thirty days of English instruction each year regardless.

Faced with these restrictions, several Arizona districts have adopted an unexpected and rather ingenious strategy. Thousands of young immigrant students have been hurriedly reclassified as “already knowing English,” through a mixture of fraudulent tests and repeated coaching. Since these students “already know English,” they are immediately granted Category I waivers exempting them from Proposition 203 and then placed in Spanish-almost-only bilingual programs in order to teach them English.

To repeat this astonishing multiple contradiction: thousands of students who don’t know English are being falsely categorized as knowing English in order to place them in Spanish-language classes allegedly designed to teach them English. The already Alice-in-Wonderland world of bilingual education has acquired a new, even more remarkable twist.

Fortunately for Arizona’s students, such legalistic tricks are absolute violations of Proposition 203. The reading skills of Arizona’s bilingual administrators are apparently as poor as their educational theories, and they have failed to notice that Proposition 203, Section 15-753(B)(1) actually defines “already knowing English” as scoring at or above grade-level on standard English-language tests, far different than merely passing some cooked-up English proficiency measure.

Thus, these bilingual activists are therefore rendering themselves subject to the personal legal liability provisions of Section 15-754, which may further include immediate removal from their jobs and five years of exclusion from the Arizona public school system. And since Proposition 203 passed in an overwhelming landslide, I suspect that angry Arizona juries will not be overly gentle with these stubbornly recalcitrant individuals. Perhaps they can all move to Alaska, or follow Keegan to Washington, D.C., the only remaining popular base for these failed bilingual programs.


P.S. In my previous Note, I criticized the administration of Lesley University for inviting me to participate in a debate forum on the Massachusetts initiative in which the panelists were stacked three-to-one (or including the moderator, perhaps four-to-one) in favor of bilingual education. In response, one of those administrators has replied that he was actually put under considerable pressure to bar my participation as well, on the grounds that I was notoriously biased and unfair in my criticism of bilingual education programs. Presumably, a three-to-zero debate on merits of bilingual education would have been far less rancorous.

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