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Arizona School Districts Grapple With ELL Law

Some Arizona school district officials are trying to figure out how English-language learners can take in four hours of English instruction each day, as a new state law requires, while also making sure they receive instruction in core subjects, such as social studies and science, according to a Nov. 26 article in the East Valley Tribune.

The reporter who wrote the article, Andrea Natekar, stated simply: "A task force, consisting of university faculty, school administrators and others—the chair an economist—met for more than a year, and came up with a research-based approach to learning English."

When I read that statement, I remembered that several people have criticized the task force's claim that the approach is research-based. Stephen Krashen of the University of Southern California and others wrote that the task force's document that spells out the research backing the approach "neglects to reference significant research bearing on the questions raised, and frequently draws inappropriate conclusions from the research presented." The Washington-based Center on Education Policy also released a report that said, "The state's structured English-immersion models should be rethought to require school districts to implement instructional models that are truly research-based." (For more on this, see my earlier post, "Critiques of Arizona's Take on Research.")

I sent Ms. Natekar an e-mail message asking if she had meant to state as fact that the approach to teaching ELLs in Arizona is "research-based" and if she were aware of the critiques of that claim.

She wrote back: "As a journalist who covers this topic, it would be inappropriate for me to enter this debate. However, the main focus of the Nov. 26 article was not to question what was and was not a research-based approach to ELL instruction, but rather to inform our readers about how statewide changes will impact our local school district."

I understand her point about the purpose of the article, but I do believe readers should know that some educators and academics differ with the Arizona task force members on whether they, indeed, selected a research-based approach to teaching ELLs.

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