The Associated Press
MESA. — Some education experts are expressing doubts about a new strategy being used this school year for students who aren’t proficient in the English language.
The policy, created by the state Legislature in response to a lawsuit, will have non-English-speakers going into specialized classrooms for four hours a day. While there, the so-called English Language Learners will receive intensive English training and they will stay there until they can pass the state’s language exam.
It’s all part of the state’s new plan to get students who don’t speak English to learn the language more quickly. State education officials say it can be done in a year.
Yet the plan is raising eyebrows among some education experts across the country. One school district, Sahuarita Unified, near Tucson, even rejected the plan for most of its elementary school students, saying it worried the Office of Civil Rights would find it discriminatory.
Patricia Gandara, an education professor and co-director of The Civil Rights Project at UCLA said, “There is a lot of discussion around the country that this is ripe for a lawsuit ....”
Arizona State University Professor Jeff McSwan has also voiced concerns about the program, specifically that the models were based on flawed interpretations of research.
He also said much of the focus is on overt language instruction, such as drilling verb tenses, instead of learning the language in a more natural setting.
“Our state is enacting educational policy not based on consideration for what is the best, most effective way of teaching kids,” McSwan said. “Our state is enacting educational policy based on ideological commitments to notions that are entirely unrelated to education. They’re related to immigration, and anxiety about the predominance of other languages in our society.”
State schools Superintendent Tom Horne disagrees. “I think within two years, you’ll see a dramatically higher rate of students being classified as knowing English, this will be a tremendous benefit for them,” he said.
Horne brushed aside concerns over possible civil rights violations.
“There’s a court case that says it is not segregation for a school to temporarily, for educational purposes, put them in a different classroom. That’s the only way to make them successful. You don’t make them successful by putting them in a class where they have no idea what’s going on because they can’t speak English,” Horne said.
The Arizona Legislature created the new education policy in a response to a class-action lawsuit that challenged the adequacy of funds being spent to help students who are learning the English language.