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Arizona's Evaluators Say Some Teachers Don't Speak English Well

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State monitors overseeing Arizona's programs for English-language learners have been out and about visiting classrooms, and they report that some teachers educating such students don't have a command of the language, according to an Aug. 31 article in the Arizona Republic. The evaluators, who based their conclusions on visits to 32 school districts last school year, also said that in a dozen school districts, teachers were sidestepping state law by teaching Spanish in the classroom. (In Arizona, state law permits bilingual education only under very restricted circumstances.)

Note that the article is based on anecdotal information from the state's report, and doesn't include feedback on the report from representatives of teachers' organizations or groups advocating for ELLs in Arizona. The article doesn't give information about how long evaluators spent in individual classrooms.

Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, told me in a telephone interview in July (see "Arizona Spells Out 'Research-Based' Models for English Immersion" ) that legislation concerning English-language learners passed during the 2005-06 school year enabled him to increase the Arizona Department of Education staff overseeing programs for such students to 26 people, from 6. That's a lot of people, given that some states only have one person who oversees programs for such students. Arizona has about 150,000 ELLs.

Mr. Horne said in July that the staff members would provide technical assistance to school districts on how to improve programs for ELLs. Stay tuned to see if we hear more news from Arizona about that, as well as the monitoring. The Arizona Republic article says the education department has rolled out a new program to help administrators understand changes in state policy for ELLs and also to train teachers "in a new prescriptive curriculum they will be expected to follow."

Readers, do you think that a lack of command of English among teachers who provide instruction for ELLs is a widespread problem?

Update: A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education told me that state officials are conducting training only in standards for English-language learners, not curriculum. A schedule for this school year gives an overview of the statewide training.

Further Update: The Arizona Republic published an opinion today by the president of the Arizona Education Association, who says the newspaper should investigate "why the Arizona Department of Education is singling out a small group of teachers rather than supporting an investment that will deliver quality education for every child."

1 Comment

I do not believe that a poor command of the English language is a widespread problem for teachers who are serving ELLs. It's hard to determine English ability based upon a couple of sentences picked up and reported. It could be as benign as stumbling over words or making an error while teaching and being observed. There has to be greater evidence than a few "bloopers." I do believe, however, there is a significant teacher training problem.

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