Horne threatens dual language learning model, but advocates push back
Public school advocates are calling on the state board of education to protect dual language instruction, delivering a petition on Thursday signed by nearly 3,000 Arizonans who oppose Superintendent Tom Horne’s recent threats against the teaching model.
Horne warned last month that his administration would withhold funding from schools using the 50-50 dual language model. Under the model, English language learners — students not yet proficient in English — are taught in the language for half of the school day and in their native language for the other half. As many as 26 school districts are at risk of losing their funding.
“Superintendent Horne’s unjust assault on this model goes beyond his authority and compromises the quality of education for ELL students,” wrote Stand for Children Arizona in a letter to state education officials. “We call on the Arizona State Board of Education to act swiftly and publicly ensure protections for the 50-50 dual language model.”
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At issue is whether dual language programs violate state law. Horne argues that Proposition 203, which Arizonans approved in 2000 and his staff helped promote at the time, outlaws teaching English learners in any language other than English until they’ve achieved proficiency. But a law passed in 2019 by lawmakers concerned over the academic struggles English learners were facing paved the way for new instructional models. Shortly after, the state education board developed four teaching models schools could choose from, three of which centered around English immersion and a fourth that is dual language based.
Democratic lawmakers have requested a legal opinion from the state’s attorney general on whether or not dual language programs comply with the provisions in Proposition 203. No opinion has yet been issued.
In a statement released after Thursday’s petition was delivered, Horne clarified that he supports dual language instruction, as long as a parental waiver is provided. The only exception to the English-only mandate in Prop. 203 is a yearly waiver signed by parents allowing their students to be taught via a bilingual curriculum. The process requires parents to first visit their child’s school and learn about the school’s educational materials and methods. Stand for Children Arizona is opposed to that solution, arguing that it is an unnecessary roadblock that will help few students.
“Instead of making things more difficult for our schools, our educators and our parents, we should be doing what we can to encourage them and support them along the way,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, at a Thursday morning news conference unveiling the petition.
Supporters of dual language instruction say it provides learning opportunities not just for students who aren’t proficient in English, but also for children hoping to learn a second language. The teaching model allows non-English speaking and English speaking students to be grouped together for lessons.
Angie Robertson’s three sons attend Gavilan Peak Elementary School in Anthem, where they’re learning Mandarin Chinese in a dual language program.
“We want them to learn a second language and be prepared for the global economy and we want their friends coming from Taiwan to be a part of the program, too,” she said. “It’s easier for their friends to learn in their own language.”
For Arizonans who grew up in a time without the option of dual language education, Horne’s statements threaten to push the state backward. Luisa Cruz, who moved from Zacatecas, Mexico with her family when she was just 11, remembers her time in school as an isolating experience, fraught with interruptions and confusion. Cruz was often pulled out of class to undergo mandated daily lessons in English and wasn’t allowed to participate in school activities she was interested in, like theater or music class. It wasn’t until she moved to a different school, with smaller class sizes that allowed English learners to learn alongside native speakers that she began improving. The old way of doing things, she said, doesn’t work.
“I missed out on a lot and felt like I was being kept apart from everyone else, held at arm’s length,” Cruz said. “And kids learn more when they’re with other kids, they help each other.”