English Immersion Yields Gains in Arizona

Published October 1, 2004

Arizona’s Department of Education has released data showing that children in Structured English Immersion classes learn at a swifter pace than children assigned to bilingual education programs in which they receive instruction in their non-English native language.

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, contends the data make clear bilingual education is a failed program.

The study compared students who were in English immersion with those in bilingual programs for the school year 2002-03, the year before the state began enforcing the requirement approved by voters in 2000 that all limited-English children be in English immersion classes.

Horne reported students in English immersion outperformed students in bilingual education by one to four months in grades 2-4, by six months in grade 5, and by more than a year from grade 6 onward.

“This means that for students in sixth grade and above, students in structured English immersion were over a year ahead of students in bilingual programs,” said Horne. He added, “These results held for all grade levels and for all students tested: reading, language, and math.”

Now that Arizona has begun enforcing the voter-approved English-immersion requirement, “hopefully there are no additional students subjected to these educationally inferior bilingual programs,” Horne said.


Advocates of bilingual education contend it is fairer to children who do not know English to teach them in their native language while gradually introducing them to English. The executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, James Crawford, blasted the Arizona study. “It’s really a crapshoot for kids to subject them to a kind of approach that has no track record. It’s really a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“We are relying on science,” Horne replied in the Arizona Republic. “And they’re stuck in ideology.”

NYC Parents Say: End Bilingual Ed

A report by the New York Times‘ Samuel G. Freedman on a meeting of Latino parents in a church basement in Brooklyn in June indicated many of the supposed beneficiaries of bilingual education agree with Arizona officials that it should be ended.

Freedman reported, “one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.”

The July 14 Times story quoted Gregorio Ortega, whose son, Geraldo, born in New York City, was suddenly transferred into a bilingual education class even though he had been learning in English during his first four years of school. Another parent, Benerita Salsedo, complained that after four years in the bilingual track her son Alberto still had not been given any English instruction.

“I’m very angry,” Freedman quoted Salsedo (speaking in Spanish through an interpreter) as saying. “The school is supposed to do what’s best for the kids. The school puts my kids’ education in danger, because everything is in English here.”

Freedman recalled that only five years earlier, in the rectory of a church only a few blocks away, another group of immigrant parents had expressed the same complaints about bilingual education.

The parents’ complaints make one thing clear, according to Freedman. “The foes of bilingual education, at least as practiced in New York, are not Eurocentric nativists but Spanish-speaking immigrants who struggled to reach the United States and struggle still at low-wage jobs to stay here so that their children can acquire and rise with an American education, very much including fluency in English.”

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

For more information …

The SAT-9 achievement scores for Arizona students in bilingual and structured English immersion classes are available online from the Arizona Department of Education at http://www.ade.az.gov/pio/Press-Releases/2004/pr08-03-04.pdf.