When courts measure the quality of education programs strictly in terms of dollars spent, student and taxpayer are both imperiled. This is especially true for English Language Learners, probably the one group in American public education whose progress has been most insulated from meaningful accountability for academic results.
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Horne v. Flores rejected lower court verdicts holding Arizona in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). These prior rulings had deemed Arizona’s programs for English learners to be “inappropriate actions” solely on the basis of funding levels. Justice Alito, writing for the Court, ruled that the prior rulings misinterpreted the EEOA. His decision insisted that other considerations, such as educational or programmatic improvements, are essential to evaluating whether equal educational opportunities are being offered.
Yesterday’s verdict also noted examples demonstrating that a growing number of structured English immersion programs have achieved success where bilingual education has failed. Specifically referenced were studies of some California school districts that abandoned ineffective bilingual education classes in favor of new approaches emphasizing teaching English in the early primary grades.
The Supreme Court remanded a class-action lawsuit filed in 1992 on behalf of parents in Nogales, Arizona. Nogales schools received not only state funding, but at the time of the lawsuit at least four federal bilingual education grants were underway in the city’s schools as well — programs characterized by poor results and misplaced educational priorities. While federal dollars supported teacher workshops in “The Hegemony of English” and ballroom dancing programs for students, more than half of these students failed to improve by a single unit of growth in English reading in one school, while “nearly half seemed to lose oral proficiency in Spanish with time in the program.”
Earlier this week, the Arizona Department of Education released new data showing that the number of English learners in public schools elevated successfully to English proficient status grew to 28.6 percent in 2009. State Superintendent Tom Horne credited this growth to newly-implemented classroom models providing English learners with four hours of intensive English language instruction each day. As recently as 2007, only 12 percent of English learners in Arizona schools became proficient in English every year. In states including California, Texas and Illinois, these annual success rates remain at about 10 percent.
In too many American cities, children in bilingual education programs are far more likely to drop out of school than ever to become proficient in English. As a result, a majority of English learners in U.S. schools are not immigrants, but second or even third generation Americans. Until improving these poor success rates becomes an educational priority, such cycles of linguistic isolation will continue to imperil the real educational and economic opportunities for this crucial segment of our nation’s population.
Find Archived Articles: