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Disagreement Over Florida's Requirements for Teachers of ELLs


For months, Florida educators have been debating what level of training should be required of reading teachers who work with English-language learners. In June, Florida Gov. Charlie Christ vetoed a bill that would have lessened the requirements in English-as-a-second-language training to 60 in-service hours for reading teachers who teach ELLs, down from 300 hours. This fall, a similar bill (Senate Bill 286) was introduced in the Florida legislature. An analysis of the bill is available here.

To get a sense for the passion of educators fighting for and against a reduction in training, read my earlier blog entries, here, and here.

Alberto M. Carvalho, the associate superintendent for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, argues against the bill pending in the Senate in a Dec. 14 commentary, "Don't Lower Teaching Standards," in the Miami Herald.

"Researchers will tell you that teaching children to read is rocket science," Mr. Carvalho writes, adding that teaching children to read while they are learning English is "a complex and challenging task."


I fear we are fighting the wrong battle here; it is not about amount of "seat time" for teachers.

Rather, we know that good professional development (that includes theory, discussion, discussion, practice and feedback during training) is only 5% effective (that is, transfers to practice in classrooms) while professional development that includes ongoing coaching back in the classroom is 95% effective (Joyce and Showers, 2002).

How can we help policy makers understand the need for PD that includes coaching and monitoring for implementation?

The rules under discussion stem from the Consent Decree in LULUC v. Florida Board of Education. During the year it was drafted, there was extensive consultation with school districts, parent groups, community based organizations, teachers' unions, and professional associations such as the Florida affiliates of TESOL and NABE. You'll be pleased to know that input resulted in requirements for a supervised practicum as part of each of the five courses required of teachers of the language arts for ESOL Endorsement. As you point out, opportunities for classroom based practice, feedback, coaching, and interaction with colleagues are vital parts of professional development. The Consent Decree's requirement for a supervised practicum is intended to provide those opportunities.

I agree with the comment on fighting the wrong battle. The Florida DOE produced a good training package in the mid 1990s that included opportunities for coaching. However, the training package is now 10 years plus old, dated, and unrevised. One component requires using a laser disk. Can you image! The DOE sponsored train-the-trainers workshops which also have not been replicated since the mid 1990s either, leaving it up to the school districts to transition the next generation of ESOL trainers, as people leave, retire, or need a break from training responsibilities.

Florida State Senator Gaetz, Chair of the Education PreK-12 Committee, calls for the elimination of ESOL training, but in an Orlando Sentinel article on December 18, 2007 in reference to reforming charter schools he says: "... any legislation that tightens accountability and raises standards will draw some opposition from those who don't want to meet standards of performance or who have a financial incentive to keep requirements vague."

I cannot help but wonder why the Senator and other policymakers do not seek the same accountability and raising standards of performance when it comes to ESOL.

Summary of Yesterday's Senate Committee Meeting

The bill passed in the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee with two votes against passage of the bill (Senators Bullard and Diaz de la Portilla) and one excused member (Senator Wilson). Senators Deutch,Wise, Gaetz, and Carlton voted for the bill. These results are encouraging, since both Senators Bullard and Diaz de la Portilla had voted for an identical bill (subsequently vetoed) last session in committee and in the full chamber vote.

The Department of Education Commissioner, Dr. Eric Smith, ignored the requirements of the Consent Decree, Miami-Dade school system's opposition to the bill, and the governor's veto of the prior version of the bill. He testified in support of the bill. He thereby reversed the position of his agency and supported the bill sponsored by the Chair of the Education Appropriations Committee, Senator Wise.

According to reports from those present at the meeting, Smith stated that teaching reading to native speakers of English is the same as teaching it to students who are learning the language. He concluded that 60 hours of ESOL training, the extent of the training requirement for teachers of basic subjects (specified in the Consent Decree as science, math, social students and computer literacy ) is enough for reading teachers. They don't need to meet the 300-hour ESOL Endorsement training requirement.

Comments on Commissioner Smith’s Statement

It is hardly surprising that a new agency head might try to start his term of office with positive relationships with legislators. What is startling is the rationale presented to support his position. It goes against the conclusions of a large body of research on teaching reading to second language learners. Perhaps he will be open to input by experts in teaching reading to second language learners and realize he has been misadvised.

The next vote on the bill will be on Jan. 23 or 24th. Those interested in affecting the outcome of the vote should call members of the Education Appropriations Committee. Contact information is listed at


This bill has come up before and was vetoed by Governor Crist last year. With the best intent, our legislators are trying to ram it through again without the understanding of the damages the bill would do. You have quoted experts which remain undecided and cannot agree on the best number of hours required. On the other hand, our State Department of Education has exercised a bare modicum of leadership in monitoring the training itself, assessing its quality, regulating the teacher trainers and working towards making the training more teacher-friendly. It is not an issue of two distinct choices, it is an issue of teacher trainers getting together with reading teachers and both sides being able to hear what the other side has to say. The law is the law and it needs to be followed, especially when we have a consent decree. Trying to circumvent it legislatively shows arrogance. Most of all, the bill reveals a degree of pandering that hurts the teachers it purports to help.

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