Kathy Hoffman’s Stance on Prop 203: Wrong in Any Language

Nov 22, 2019 by

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman recently urged citizens to support her in repealing the English learner (EL) law, based on Proposition 203 of 2000, that requires mostly Spanish-speaking children to learn English through structured English immersion techniques.  She believes ELs do better when learning in their native languages and gradually transitioning into English, through bilingual education methods.

She may not realize that 63% of the Arizona voters passed Prop 203 for a reason:  to offer mostly Hispanic immigrant children the opportunity to become English proficient so they could partake in the American dream and not remain stuck in poverty.

Before Prop 203, school administrators coerced parents of Hispanic ELs into enrolling their children in bilingual programs. They pointed to questionable research, insisting that the ELs would learn English well if taught mostly in Spanish.

Typically, whether enrolled in dual-language or transitional bilingual, kindergarten and first grade ELs receive only 10-20% of their daily instruction in English, with a gradual increase to 40% by fourth grade.

Curiously, Hoffman praised the Nogales public schools where over 90% of the children start school as ELs.  Perhaps she lacks an awareness of the schools’ history.

While Prop 203 was being debated in 2000, parents in Nogales won a class action lawsuit. They complained their children had not learned English after having been educated for several years in bilingual education programs.  Their lawyers blamed the poor results on insufficient state funding.

After several court challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and ruled in 2009 in favor of the State. The justices praised the Nogales superintendent who had replaced bilingual education with structured English immersion in 2000.  They identified Prop 203 as a major factor of “changed circumstances” leading to the rise in academic achievement of ELs specifically in Nogales.

Since then, the Nogales ELs have learned English through structured English immersion methods and maintained their Spanish at home. In 6th grade, former ELs have the opportunity to study Spanish as an elective and continue developing their Spanish skills through high school. Many achieve success in the prestigious International Baccalaureate program.

When State Superintendents Tom Horne and John Huppenthal implemented the EL law, it proved successful. The percentage of ELs reclassified as English-proficient rose from 4% in 1999 to an average of 29%, from 2007 to 2015. The total number of ELs decreased from 112,552 in 1999 to 83,500 in 2018.

Since 2015, the monitoring of EL programs under State Superintendent Diane Douglas became lax and the federal government demanded a higher English-proficient cut-off score.  Consequently, the percentage of ELs reclassified as English proficient dropped to 16%.

The ballot measures almost identical to Prop 203 in two other states resulted in remarkable outcomes.  On average, 33 percent of ELs in California achieved English proficiency every year from 2007 to 2015, an impressive improvement over the 5 percent rate in 1995.  After being mainstreamed for one or two years, California’s monitored former ELs, outscored all students in reading and math on the state’s achievement tests.  The ELs in federal programs in Massachusetts’ schools, during that same period, reached English proficiency at the rate of 34 percent.  No data was available for comparison to earlier rates.

In Colorado and New York, where bilingual education is encouraged, likely due to federal grant money available for bilingual but not immersion education, the results have been disappointing.  Only 12 percent of English learners in federal programs in Colorado reached English proficiency on average from 2007 to 2015. In New York, 16 percent reached that goal over the same period. It is worth noting that Colorado allows ELs and former ELs to take the state achievement tests in their native languages rather than in English. New York and other states intend to do the same.

Superintendent Hoffman complained about the 4-hour models created by the AZ English Language Learner Task Force – although both the legislature and the governor approved a bill in the last session that lowered that requirement to two hours daily of structured English immersion.

It would be unconscionable for Arizonans to abolish a law that guarantees ELs instruction in English.  Tell Superintendent Hoffman, “No!” 

Source: Kathy Hoffman’s Stance on Prop 203: Wrong in Any Language – Western Free Press

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