Arizona Legislators Cannot Ignore Colleague’s Plea To Protect English Language Learning

Arizona State Representative Quang Nguyen

At the Arizona House Education Committee hearing of March 23, 2021, Republican Representative Quang Nguyen (LD-1) pleaded with his colleagues to vote against SCR1020.  He realizes that this resolution would result in disaster, should it pass in the legislature and subsequently be approved by voters in 2022.  It would allow schools to use state and federal grant funds, meant for English learners to learn English, to instead focus on teaching a second language, mainly Spanish, to native English speakers, through dual-language instruction.

Representative Nguyen made the point that as a Vietnamese immigrant child, he had learned through immersion – and that there was no other way!  He considers immigrant children’s mastery of English a necessity for survival in this country.  Thus, he is passionately against putting the teaching of a second language to native English speakers ahead of teaching English to immigrant children. Make no mistake, 30 minutes of English in kindergarten and first grade, the usual time allotted for English in a dual-language program, is absolutely inadequate for immigrant children – even ones with genius intelligence – to learn English or any other language!

As an elected Maricopa County Community College District board member, I was privy to disaggregated data that revealed college students’ success rates according to race/ethnicity.  The gains for Hispanic students, of which 45 percent of them had self-identified as having grown up in Spanish-dominant homes, were impressive.  They showed unmistakably that the law mandating structured English immersion, enacted in 2003 under State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne, had well-prepared these students for college.

From 2014 to 2017, the enrollment of Hispanic students increased from 26 percent (33,335 students) to 33 percent (39,707 students) of the total enrollees.  The retention rate improved from 56 percent in 2011 to 60 percent in 2015, comparable to the white students’ retention rate that improved from 60 percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2015.

Most important, the Hispanic students’ rate at college-level course success, that is, the percent of students who passed college-level classes rather than non-credit “developmental classes,” rose from 70 percent in 2011 to 76 percent in 2015.  With whites, the rate improved from 73 percent in 2011 to 79 percent in 2015.  According to more recent data, the gap between Hispanic and white students’ achievement rates has continued to close – especially noteworthy considering that whites have grown up speaking English their entire lives.

It is understandable that some parents would want their children to begin to learn a second language in the early grades through dual-language instruction. However, that can be done and has been done without involving children whose first language is not English!

Representative Nguyen is correct to urge his House colleagues to vote against SCR1020 and, thus, save as many immigrant children as possible from a life of poverty as second-class citizens – due to having been deprived of sufficient English language instruction in their schools.

I urge citizens to call and email their legislative senators and representatives to vote “no” on SCR1020.

Johanna J. Haver is a former Maricopa County Community College Board member (2015 to 2019). She is the author of Vindicated: Closing the Hispanic Achievement Gap Through English Immersion (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). She taught English learners for 19 years in the Avondale public schools and in the Phoenix Union High School District.