Focus English-learner debate on opportunities for students

The Arizona Republic

August 20, 2005

Editorial columnist Robert Robb's stance would unfairly deprive Arizona schoolchildren of the federal money necessary to create the level playing field that will enable them to become productive citizens.

I challenge Robb's viewpoint on several points.

Robb should have made clear that Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposal is an attempt to implement a state mandate from 2001 to fund educational programs for English-learner students. The governor's proposal recognizes that the Legislature has not met the requirements of the court, which were decided in 1992.

Robb's radical statement regarding the federal government is disturbing: "If this judicial legislating regarding state English-acquisition programs is actually upheld on appeal, perhaps it will be time for Arizona to also explore the possibilities and the price of emancipation from federal intrusions."

The U.S. Constitution is grounded in the principle of equal opportunity for all. The 14th Amendment guarantees equality for all citizens. Additionally, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments stand as federal non-discrimination laws that have become the pillars of our educational system.

The Flores consent decree and the governor's proposal simply seek to provide the long-overdue, court-mandated funding that is the right of our English-language learners. It is the legal and moral responsibility of our legislators to fulfill these mandates.

Robb unfairly assumes that the test used to exit English-learner students from the program "will inevitably be gamed" by educators, leading to more students being "designated English learners than otherwise would be the case, and they will stay so designated for longer than would otherwise be the case."

In truth, rather than being used as a means of keeping students in structured English-immersion classes longer, these tests have had just the opposite effect - a proclivity to mainstream such students in an inappropriately short amount of time, before they have the skills necessary to succeed in mainstream classes.

In recent decades, all great educational leaders ask one simple question when it comes to deciding educational issues: How can we provide equal opportunity for all students?

Robb, as well as Arizona's legislators, should ask this same question.

Delight Diehn, The writer has been a structured English-immersion educator and teacher trainer in Arizona for 20 years.