English learner changes shelved
PHOENIX — A state panel is pouring cold water on the desires of most of the Arizona school districts that want to use customized alternatives to the state's model for instruction of students learning English.
The state task force on Thursday approved a proposal by the Phoenix Union High School District.
But the task force didn't vote on numerous other proposals as several members said those proposals seem to deviate too much from requirements of state law and the standard model approved by the task force.
"We have to use the same standards," said Alan Maguire, the task force's chairman.
A key sticking point is the task force's requirement that English Language Learning students have four hours of instruction daily devoted to language learning.
State officials contend the four-hour mandate is essential to provide ELL students with a strong, early push toward English proficiency. Districts contend it's an unwieldy mandate that the state is underfunding.
The 2006 law was passed by the Legislature to try to resolve a 1994 lawsuit challenging Arizona's ELL programs as violating federal mandates for equal opportunities in education.
Arizona has 138,000 ELL students.
John Stollar, a senior state Department of Education official, said the four-hour requirement was "non-negotiable" and the department was gearing up to enforce implementation when schools reopen in the fall.
"They need to adhere to four hours of English language development," he said.
Stollar said Phoenix Union's proposal seemed to comply because it envisioned textbooks for social studies and certain courses as reading material in ELL instruction, not to dodge the four-hour requirement.
Some other proposals envision using math teachers to provide instruction intended to help students learning English, according to Stollar. "That stretches the limits of believability," he said.
Several school officials complained that their inquiries and requests for information on alternative proposals drew no responses from state officials.
With the task force not voting on most of the submitted proposals, "I would have preferred an outright disapproval," said Angelina Canto, a Nogales Unified School District administrator.
"We need more information ... so that we know the status of our recommendation," Canto said.
Task force member Eugene Garcia, an Arizona State University vice president, told Stollar that the department needs to do more to help districts develop alternatives, a possibility allowed under the 2006 law.
Stollar defended the process, saying it was appropriate for an evolving circumstance.
Because of the date and the start of the new school year within a few months, it's now time for the department to switch from evaluating alternative proposals to focusing on preparing for monitoring implementation, he said.