English proficiency cannot be purchased
Daily Star
Mar. 21, 2005


 It's been more than four years since Arizona passed Proposition 203, which mandated that the state's schools switch from bilingual programs to English immersion education. But Arizona schools are still not teaching English effectively to immigrant children. Now a legislative report - conducted at the behest of a district judge - has compounded the problem by urging the state to funnel yet more money into programs that clearly aren't working.

 Learning English early and well is crucial to a child's future success in school and in life. The report - written by the National Conference of State Legislatures - found that almost half of Arizona's school districts are not meeting basic English proficiency requirements. Apparently, 43.8 percent of K-12 school districts remain below state requirements for English proficiency four years after Proposition 203 was passed.

 This is a real crisis. But rather than tackling the underlying failures in the system, the report proposes dropping an additional $200 million into failing language programs. Specifically, the report calls for an increase of an average of $1,550 per English learner in Arizona's schools. Apparently, no failure goes unrewarded.

 In January, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins of Tucson ordered the Legislature to provide more funding for English learners by the end of the current legislative period.

 Following the judge's order, the Legislature contracted with the National Conference of State Legislatures to provide a report that studies the problem and comes up with a number on how much it should cost to make it better.

 Unfortunately, there is no magical amount of money that will buy immigrant children English proficiency. In fact, a 2001 study commissioned by the Arizona Department of Education concluded there is no relationship between academic achievement and how much districts spend for educating English learners. One program that cost a heady $4,000 per student was actually less effective at ensuring English proficiency than one that cost a frugal $100.

 The other big problem is that the schools are not effectively using the funds they already have. Moreover, many school districts have simply failed to implement the immersion requirements altogether.

 The situation can still be salvaged. Arizona schools simply need to make sure existing - and future - funds are used to implement real immersion programs in accordance with Proposition 203.

 The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that part of the challenge in making the switch to immersion education, which stresses English fluency in the early grades, results from "lack of 'buy in' from teachers."

 Four years ago, the people of Arizona voted to make the future brighter for the state's new arrivals by providing them with an education designed to produce English proficiency as rapidly as possible. It's time for Arizona schools to fulfill their responsibility to voters - and children -by finally implementing the immersion requirements of Proposition 203.

 Contact Sarah Means Lohmann at lohmann@lexingtoninstitute.org