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Arizona's 4-Hour Program Doesn't Affect 41 Percent of Schools

A large number of Arizona's schools have been exempted from carrying out the state's mandate to separate English-language learners from other students for four hours a day to learn English skills because the schools don't have many ELLs, according to a technical brief released by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences at the end of last month.

The technical brief was researched and written by Eric Haas and Min Huang at the Regional Educational Laboratory at WestEd at the request of the Arizona Department of Education. Likely, Arizona state education officials wanted the information to use during an evidentiary hearing in the federal court case, Miriam Flores v. State of Arizona, that is now taking place at the U.S. District Court in Tucson. The case, which is nationally known as Horne v. Flores, focuses on Arizona's approach to educating ELLs. It was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2009 and remanded to the U.S. District Court in Tucson in June of last year. See the story I filed from Tucson about the first day of the hearing, Sept. 1, published at edweek.org.

The court case was first filed in 1992 by parents in the Nogales Unified School District who felt programs for ELLs weren't effective. It has evolved to now focus on whether Arizona's four-hour program for ELLs is working.

But the law that requires school districts to implement the program exempts any school that has 19 or fewer English-language learners. That turns out to be 41 percent of Arizona's schools, according to the study. Those same schools also don't have enough ELLs to be required by the No Child Left Behind law to report adequate yearly progress data for ELLs for federal accountability purposes. Another 14 percent of Arizona's schools have enough ELLs that they must implement the four-hour program, but they still don't have enough ELLs that they have to report AYP data for that group of students.

The study found that 45 percent of Arizona's schools have 40 or more ELLs and thus must both report AYP data for ELLs and implement the four-hour program.

The study found some common characteristics among those schools with the most ELLs in the state. Schools with a majority of ELLs tend to be primary schools rather than middle or high schools. They also tend to be traditional public schools where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The study examined data for the 168,199 ELLs, or 16 percent of the students, who attended Arizona's schools during the 2007-08.

Another finding in the study stood out for me, given that I just wrote an article for Education Week about how charter schools are being urged by advocacy groups to better serve ELLs. The study found that charter schools in Arizona had the highest share of schools with no ELLs.

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