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Federal Court: Two Years Isn't Long Enough

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Tom Hutton, a lawyer for the National School Boards Association, made an interesting point in an interview with me this morning about a federal appeals court ruling last Friday in the 15-year-old Flores v. Arizona case. My colleague Mark Walsh and I have already blogged about this ruling from the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, regarding English-language learners in Arizona.

The appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that a law passed by the Arizona legislature in 2006 does not satisfy a previous ruling of the lower court from 2000 that the state must provide adequate funding for English-language learners. One reason the law isn't sufficient, the appeals court judges say, is that it contains a limit of two years on the amount of time that an ELL is eligible to benefit from funding for specialized instruction.

The appeals court ruling says on page 83: "There is absolutely no evidence in the record to support the proposition that a student's need for ELL programs invariably vanishes after two years of instruction: instead the evidence is squarely to the contrary, as all witnesses testified that some students would certainly take longer than two years to become proficient in English."

I assume some of you have been in the field long enough to remember that lots of people were at one point going around saying that English-language learners ought to be able to learn English in a year.

Arizona, California, and Massachusetts passed laws based on that premise.

Those same people who promoted those laws aren't coming forward these days to say that, in fact, it has been possible for children to learn English in a year.

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For most of 2007, some individuals in Florida said that teaching reading to native speakers is the same as teaching reading to non-native speakers. They also said that the reading endorsement training was sufficient to teach ELLs. These positions were used as a basis for supporting legislation that reduces teacher training for those who teach reading to ELLs. Governor Crist vetoed the bill in June 2007.

The same legislators reintroduced the bill without change in September. Last month, in the Education PreK-12 Senate Appropriations Committee, an invited reading expert testified that teaching reading to native and non-native speakers is not the same and the current reading teacher training did not prepare teachers to serve ELLs.

When asked the question if the two were the same, the new DOE Commissioner of Education also stated that they were not. The bill passed the committee anyways and on it goes to the House.

Looks like there is a disconnect between information the policy makers use to make their decisions and facts related to second language acquisition.

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