Original URL:  http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/metro/12298.php

Schools chief, Hispanic group trade snubs
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Horne: "Crusaders for academic mediocrity" at fault.
Arizona schools superintendent Tom Horne decided not to take part in a Tucson conference on improving education for Latino students this week after the host organization withdrew an honor it planned to give him.
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the chamber's education arm, is sponsoring a conference Friday and Saturday at the University of Arizona.
The goal of the event, or Feria Educativa, is to help find ways to improve education for Latino students by reducing dropouts, improving academic achievement and getting families information they need to help their children attend college.
Horne, as the state's top education official, was sup-posed to be honored by the foundation at a reception Friday evening.
"The thrust is to invite and feature the top officials and policy-makers throughout our events and during the reception that we usually host, we invite the top officials and pay special tribute to them," said Frank Lopez, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
But once word spread among opponents of Horne's policies - specifically his approach to restricting access to bilingual education in favor of English immersion for non-English speakers - pressure built up and the organization decided not to pay tribute to Horne but to have him speak briefly on Arizona education at the conference in his official capacity.
The chamber foundation does not endorse any particular methods of education but wants to spur dialogue on all approaches that can help Latino students achieve, Lopez said.
"Tom Horne is setting policy, whether you think it's good or bad, that we need to have a dialogue about," Lopez said.
Horne canceled his appearance entirely because he said the foundation succumbed to "pressure from extremists."
"The fact that this group succumbed to pressure from crusaders for academic mediocrity means they are not worthy of respect and I do not wish to have anything to do with them," Horne said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
In Arizona, students who are learning English are placed in classrooms where lessons are taught in English under the theory that students learn the language more quickly if they are immersed in it than if they are taught in both English and Spanish.
Voters approved a measure restricting bilingual education, but Horne's way of implementing the law has been criticized by people who say students aren't learning English or academics in that situation and the policy is harming students.
Horne has made it more difficult for Spanish-speaking students to get a waiver and attend bilingual classes by increasing the amount of English students must know to get into classes where lessons are taught in both languages.
"I'm disappointed he decided not to come," Lopez said. "It's making the issue himself, not the conference to help educate Latino students."
The conference, which is free and open to the public, will also feature a "BizFest" designed to help Latino young people think about becoming entrepreneurs. The conference runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday at the UA Memorial Student Union.
U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., will give the keynote address at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Stevie Eller Dance Theater on the UA campus.
Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at sgassen@azstarnet.com.