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Posted at 2:51 PM ET, 07/ 8/2010

Studies question Arizona’s policy on English learners

By Valerie Strauss

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA released nine new studies Thursday that examine the condition of English-learners in Arizona, a state where these students are segregated from other students for four hours each school day.

The project says that 21 senior scholars and advanced graduate students from four major research universities -- from Stanford and Arizona State universities, UCLA and the University of Arizona -- joined in an unprecedented collaboration to produce the reports.

The release of the papers comes at a time when Arizona has been in the national spotlight for several reasons, including its new immigration law that allows police to question anyone who appears to be in the country illegally. The U.S. Justice Department is suing Arizona over the law.

In addition, some of Arizona's education policies have come under scrutiny, including its challenge of an ethnic studies program, and an effort to remove teachers with heavy Hispanic accents from the classrooms of Hispanic English-learners. Language acquisition experts blasted the policy, and a research study in Israel concluded that students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do.

About 10 percent of U.S. students are English-learners; in Arizona the number is about 15 percent.

In June 2009, the Supreme Court, ruling in Horne v. Flores, voted 5 to 4 in support of Arizona’s claim that it should not be required to provide more help for English-learners who are faring poorly in the state’s schools.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to Federal District Court, which needs to make key decisions about the application of the new Supreme Court ruling this fall. Concern about these issues and the deepening racial polarization in Arizona prompted the scholars to donate their time to study how Arizona’s English-learners are faring under the state’s current educational policies.

Here are highlights of the findings. You can read the papers here:

1) The approximately 15 percent of Arizona’s students who are EL are continuing to lag far behind their English-speaking peers with virtually no narrowing of achievement gaps under the state policy.

2) EL students are NOT gaining proficiency in English in one year as promised by the new four-hour English Language Development (ELD) block to which these students are assigned.

3) EL students are extremely segregated from their English-speaking peers in what amounts to “Mexican Rooms.”

4) Eighty-five percent of the 880 teachers surveyed from across the state of Arizona expressed concern about the educational damage of the extreme segregation these students are experiencing, and

5) The majority of these teachers did not believe most of these students were reaching grade-level standards expected of all Arizona students.

6) It is virtually impossible for secondary students who are consigned to the four-hour ELD block to take and pass the courses they need to graduate high school or go on to college. These studies raise grave concerns that secondary EL students are being set up to drop out of school, while elementary students are being stigmatized and marginalized in their schools.

Several of the studies offered recommendations for instructional models that could help these students gain access to the same curriculum as their English-speaking peers and meet with greater success in school. In addition to research-based sheltered English programs, these include bilingual and dual language programs, models that have been either outlawed or heavily discouraged in Arizona but continue to show stronger results than the program currently in operation there.

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By Valerie Strauss  | July 8, 2010; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  English language learners, Research  | Tags:  arizona and english language learners, arizona education policies, civil rights project at ucla, civil rights projects, new studies on arizona  
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Comments

A lot of students that are not classified as English Language learners, are in fact English Language learners.

Posted by: aby1 | July 8, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Yes, aby1 is correct. Often students speak English well, but need extra help with reading and writing. (academic language) the academic language usually takes longer (3 years longer or more) to acquire than oral speech.

One gets the idea that Arizona used to have bilingual programs and just switched them over to English as Second Language for political reasons. Thus, the 4 hour ELL class and also the reason they have so many teachers proficient in Spanish with heavy accents.

Bilingual ed. always gets a bad rap because people think it means Spanish only.In reality, the kids learn in Spanish core subjects like science, while learning English for another part of the day. There are still factors of mobility, poverty, special education, and all the other factors that any student would face. but the results seem a bit better than this.


Posted by: celestun100 | July 8, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Where I live in California, we have a large Iraqi population, both Chaldean and Muslim. They are all fast English language learners. I asked an ESL teacher I know well which group learns better or faster and her response was the non-Hispanics. The middle eastern folks are definitely motivated and the whole family learns, not just the kids. The Hispanic learners are only the kids. The parents don't want to learn or don't care. Are the Iraqi's smarter? Or are they just more motivated? I would say both. So would my ESL teacher friend. There is a Chaldean child in my daughter's class (Catholic school) has only been in the U.S. for three years. It only took he and his family a year to become fluent. And who gets ahead...the middle eastern folks. They become business owners, teachers and move into professions, not just labor type jobs.
What's the deal???

Posted by: kodonivan | July 8, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

@kodoonivan

I believe that what you say is true for the people you know in your area. I grew up in an area with many Chaldeans, Lebanese and other middle easterners and saw that they assimilate quickly and work hard.

I now live in an area with many Hispanics and I see that they also assimilate quickly, work hard and they are very fluent in English. even people who were educated in other Spanish speaking countries (parents and children) try to speak English, even with other Spanish speakers.

I think we could both give more anecdotal evidence, but the truth is, most immigrants learn English. It does sometimes take a long time to become actually fluent in another language.

I suspect that some of the differences you and I are perceiving are due to the economic level and level of education of the people, before they came to the US.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 8, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Readers with serious interest in this issue should look into "Learning and Not Learning English" by Guadalupe Valdes. The book illuminates the poor outcomes for students who are consigned to perpetual ESL while deprived of access to mainstream courses and curriculum.

Posted by: Incidentally | July 8, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Several of the studies offered recommendations for instructional models that could help these students gain access to the same curriculum as their English-speaking peers and meet with greater success in school.
.................................
Here is really a novel idea.

Have the Department of Education actually work with educators and explore ideas that work and are effective.

The Department of Education could then issue guidelines on these programs and provide workers from the Department of Education to actually work with education officials of state governments to adopt these ideas.

But of course this does not allow for crowd pleasing political coverage of the Department of Education, and so will not be done by the Department of Education.

The Department of Education had the opportunity of developing standard tests for education and providing these tests to states freely. Instead the Department of Education had each state would have to pay the expense of developing standard tests.

Just imagine if the country actually had a department of government that used resources to assist public education in the United States instead of a system where every local government has to use limited resources to pay for services that every school system needs.

In this country limited resources in public education are being spent separately by 50 states to determine which book in the third grade should be used for reading. It would be less expensive if the federal government selected a book and gave them out free to states.

But this will never be.

Big surprise that there are problems in English as Second Language.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 8, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

an effort to remove teachers with heavy Hispanic accents from the classrooms of Hispanic English-learners. Language acquisition experts blasted the policy, and a research study in Israel concluded that students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do.
....................................
It is not clear whether the teachers that were removed were only teaching children that required ESL or whether they were also required to teach in mixed classes without ESL students.

Primary school teachers who have a "heavy foreign accents" should not be teaching in a primary school if they are expected to teach mixed classes where there are children that do not require ESL.

Teachers with heavy Hispanic accents are acceptable as part time or full time teachers if they only teach ESL classes but it would be preferable to have a teacher that does not have a heavy foreign accent.

One has to be careful with "language acquisition experts".

Are they speaking about primary school children, older students, or adults?

I can see very little purpose in implanting a heavy foreign accent on a young child learning to speak English.

The younger a child is, is the best time for a child to overcome the differences between Spanish and English that create a heavy accent. A teacher with a heavy accent would only reinforce the differences that the child needs to overcome.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 8, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Why does one have to be careful with language acquisition experts?

Often in a bilingual ed. set up, the students have one teacher for English and another for classes in the other language.

I suspect what happened in Arizona is they had bilingual ed., then didn't know what to do with the teachers that they had hired to teach in Spanish, so they "turned them into" English as a second language teachers. Just a suspicion.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 8, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

In addition, some of Arizona's education policies have come under scrutiny, including its challenge of an ethnic studies program, and an effort to remove teachers with heavy Hispanic accents from the classrooms of Hispanic English-learners. Language acquisition experts blasted the policy, and a research study in Israel concluded that students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do.
....................................
Valerie Straus should not have written the above.

The above implies that the experts are speaking about a heavy Hispanic accents, and I found it hard to believe that any expert in their right mind would have children being taught to learn to speak English from a teacher with a "heavy accent".

I did a search of the internet.

"The study suggests English taught to Mexican students as a second language, for example, can be taught just as well by a Mexican teacher speaking English as by a native-born American."

There is absolutely no suggestion at all that the researchers are talking about teachers with heavy Hispanic accents.

A heavy accent in English usually indicates English that is spoken very poorly.

There may be questions about whether or not the teachers have "heavy accents" but there certainly is no question that there is no gain in having children taught English by teachers with heavy accents.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 8, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

kodonivan,

Are the Chaldean children playing in their neighorhood with English speaking children? Are the park district and library programs for children there in English?

Many of my hispanic children are from lower income families. When they go out into the neighborhood, they play with other children in Spanish, not English. In addition the park programs has activities for children that are totally in Spanish. And so do the libraries.

I think the Chaldean children may have greater exposure to standard English OUTSIDE of school than many hispanic children have, especially those hispanics who come from poor neighborohoods. For these children, the only time they hear English for certain is when they hear English is in their classrooms.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 8, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I see Spanish students talking in Spanish in English classrooms all the time. For example, after a teacher groups students together for a class project, many of the groups will discuss the total project in Spanish and then produce it in English.

Or if a student misunderstands the teacher's direction in English, he may turn over and ask one of his friends to explain the teacher's direction in English.

I have seen this go on repeatedly.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 8, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I said: he may turn over and ask one of his friends to explain the teacher's direction in English

I meant:
he may turn over and ask one of his friends to explain the teacher's direction in SPANISH

Posted by: jlp19 | July 8, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

The link on the home page to this article is broken.

Posted by: Garak | July 9, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Is it possible that the Lebanease, Chaldeans, etc., come from an area where they have heard, seen in print, and adopted individual words from--more languages than North Americans do? European and Middle Eastern countries have a greater mix of nationalities than the United States outside of major cities, and in addition some of those "countries" have several local languages spoken. It's possible that Hispanic youngsters, both from Mexico and those born here but raised in a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood, are as isolated linguistically as their English-speaking classmates. Those from outside North America may learn English more readily because they have a more varied linguistic exposure.

By the way--if students can discuss their project among themselves in Spanish and then produce the work in English, or explain the English directions to a classmate in Spanish, isn't this bilinguilism? And isn't this what we should want for all students?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | July 9, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

"Concern about these issues and the deepening racial polarization in Arizona prompted the scholars to donate their time"

Oh, well then, I'm sure we may have the utmost confidence in their objectivity!

Posted by: thebump | July 9, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Concern about these issues and the deepening racial polarization in Arizona prompted the scholars to donate their time"

Oh, well then, I'm sure we may have the utmost confidence in their objectivity!

Posted by: thebump
...............................
Very intelligent comment.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 9, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Strauss, your quote ..."a research study in Israel concluded that students learn a second language better from a teacher who speaks in the same accent as they do." while correct does not an exhaustive finding make. There were only 60 students who participated in the study and only one language was measured. The implication for including the sweeping statement, IMO, was to support the idea of keeping "teachers with heavy Hispanic accents" teachers in classrooms where there is a large Spanish-speaking student base. Until more studies have been done, with more subjects and more languages, using the results of one study is not sufficient.

Posted by: eslteacher | July 10, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

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