Mahoney, Lillie, and TESOL alumna publish study examining the impact of anti-bilingual education measure

Roger Coda
Educators Kate Mahoney, Karen Lillie and alumna Natalie DuBois

Educators (from left) Associate Professor Karen Lillie, Professor Kate Mahoney and alumna Natalie DuBois.

College of Education Professor Kate Mahoney and Associate Professor Karen Lillie collaborated with Natalie DuBois, who earned a M.S.Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at SUNY Fredonia in 2021, and professors from other universities to conduct a large-scale quantitative research study that evaluated the level of success of Arizona’s anti-bilingual education Proposition 203.

The study, “Castañeda’s Third Prong Redux: The Achievement of Arizona’s English Language Learners after Proposition 203,” assessed the impacts of Proposition 203 over a 12-year period to see whether it meets the “third prong” of Castañeda v. Pickard, which requires a demonstration of the effectiveness of a program following its implementation. It was recently published in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.

Proposition 203, also known as the English Language Education for Children in Public Schools Act, repealed existing bilingual laws and required all classes be taught in English, with few exceptions, in the state of Arizona.

Data collected statewide from Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards between 2002 and 2013 effectively measured the effects of Proposition 203 on the achievement of the state’s English Learners (ELs), whose entire school experience has been conditioned by the law, according to the study abstract. The study was not designed to track increasing or decreasing scores, but rather the difference in scores for the two groups of students, Dr. Mahoney explained. The achievement gap grew between two groups over time, instead of decreasing.

The two groups studied were those who learned English as a new language – most of them already knew Spanish and were learning English in school. The other group were native English-speaking students; most of them knew only English (former ELs v. monolingual English speakers).

The study was a follow-up to a different study conducted by Dr. Mahoney, who is TESOL Program coordinator at SUNY Fredonia, and four professors from other universities in 2010 that evaluated performances of former English Learners (ELs) vs. monolingual English speakers.

According to their analysis in the 2022 study, results show that the difference between two groups of students has grown over time, indicating that the state’s achievement data does not support the conclusion that Arizona has improved educational outcomes for its ELs, thus failing the third prong of Castañeda. The data indicate that education for English Learners has not improved since Proposition 203, but has worsened.

Based on these results, the authors suggest repealing Proposition 203, as California and Massachusetts have done with similar anti-bilingual measures.

“One aspect of this study that makes these findings very strong is we had test scores for the entire state,” Mahoney added.

Ms. DuBois, currently a full-time English as a New Language (ENL) teacher at the Buffalo Academy of Science II, was enrolled in a graduate independent study research course taught by Mahoney about analyzing large scale databases. 

Co-authors of the study also included Drs. Kellie Rolstad and Jeff MacSwan, both of the University of Maryland, and Professor Emeritus Thomas Haladyna of Arizona State University. The article can be found online.

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