Several Arizona Districts Are Failing To Maintain Adequate Student Achievement


Many in the education establishment have long believed that minority children from disadvantaged families do not have the capability to achieve equal to that of children from (mostly white) advantaged homes. Recently, that point of view has been taken to a higher level called “equity” instruction. This amounts to holding back high achievers academically and, instead, allowing low achievers all sorts of excuses for their poor performance.

The goal of “equity” is to make all students appear equal! Advanced Placement classes would be eliminated and grading systems would be set up to make it impossible for failing students to receive failing grades. Condescension, loose standards, and little or no student accountability would replace the quest for high achievement.

In the early years of my teaching career, I taught German and occasionally Latin to high school and university students. For one year, I was an instructor of English conversation in Germany at a Gymnasium, the academically most advanced of German secondary school types that prepares students for eventual attendance at German universities. In other words, I was used to instructing highly motivated, intelligent students.

In 1987, my career took a turn. The Phoenix Union High School District where I was teaching German at the time was making many adjustments that forced some of us to change what subjects we would teach. As low person on the foreign language seniority list, I had prepared myself for this situation by picking up hours at ASU so I would qualify to teach English as a second language (ESL).

Teachers had told me that second language learners, mostly Spanish-speaking students, were lazy and disinclined to take instruction seriously. Thus, I was somewhat apprehensive regarding this assignment.

However, I soon discovered that my students were just as bright as any group I had ever taught so I upgraded my instruction accordingly, rather than stick with the usual ESL format. I taught them the basics of English structure to the point that they could decipher 20 plus-word English sentences, frequently found in their history and science books, with ease. I pointed out the resemblance of Latin-based English prefixes and root words to Spanish words they were familiar with. Once in the mainstream, my former ESL student measured up to the other students, according to their teachers. I continued teaching English learners until I retired in 1999 and enjoyed every minute of it.

Most of my students had endured hardships: abandoned to live with relatives whom they barely knew, supporting themselves by working at fast-food restaurants, walking home through streets where gangs were a threat, bullying, and so on. Their lives were not easy but, nevertheless, the only way that could or would change was through education. They knew that. As long as I taught them in meaningful ways, they responded positively.

Success with these children in large measure had already occurred in two Phoenix school districts: Alhambra Elementary and Glendale Union HS Districts. The young children in Alhambra were immersed in English as early as pre-school and most had reached English proficiency by second grade. The Glendale schools aligned English-learner instruction with the district’s English curriculum but also allowed the English learners an extra hour of English instruction. In addition, the Glendale district provided training for subject-matter teachers on how to organize their instruction to assist their English-learning students. The success of the common-sense policies of these two districts is well-documented and could become a model for today’s Arizona school districts.

Unfortunately, presently, several Arizona districts are failing to maintain decent student achievement, as indicated by extremely low scores on standardized tests. Those districts are resisting change often because they have bought into the “equity” policy.

Fortunately, the present Arizona Department of Education, under Superintendent Tom Horne, is doing all it can to correct this problem and make it again possible for children to develop their individual abilities, talents and interests – rather than subject them to low-level “equity” instruction that can best be described as poppycock!