Schools seek changes to English learning requirement
Associated Press
June 5, 2008


TUCSON- Two Tucson area school districts say they can do a better job of teaching English to non-English speakers and they intend to seek alternatives to a teaching mandate from the state Legislature.
In 2006, the Legislature mandated that students not proficient in English must be segregated four hours a day to learn English beginning with the 2008-09 school year.
Administrators in the Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts contend the requirement is unfair, too long and will prevent students from taking other subjects.
Both districts would cut the four hours of immersion to two hours.
Called the 2 plus 2 plan, the other two hours would be spent in integrated subjects other than English, where students would learn academic concepts in addition to receiving specialized English support.
TUSD currently has about 8,000 English Language Learners students, while Sunnyside has about 4,000.
Both districts said they haven't received word whether their plans will be approved and don't expect to until Friday.
That's when the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force may decide on alternatives proposed by the two Tucson districts and other school districts across the state.
Steve Holmes, TUSD's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said TUSD has already prepared for the 2 plus 2 plan. TUSD and Sunnyside officials said they don't plan to sue over the issue at this point.
"We have received some guidance from OCR (federal Office of Civil Rights), but we have not spoken to any attorneys about this," Holmes said.
Sunnyside school district parents said they are concerned that four hours a day of English will keep their children, especially those in high school, from taking the classes they need to graduate in four years, said Jeannie Favela, assistant superintendent for student services.
"If they keep getting farther and farther behind in core classes because they're only in English immersion, and as a result don't pass AIMS, how are they going to graduate?" she asked.
Julia Lindberg, Sunnyside's director of language acquisition and development, said she is concerned about the state plan because there is very little time for math, science and social studies and no time for electives.
Favela agreed.
"It prevents English-language learners from having the same quality education day that our English-speaking students have," she said. "We don't want to go back to the days where students were segregated. We've gotten past that and we don't want to go back."
The subject of money to fund ELL is also at stake.
More than 100 Arizona school district superintendents protested a lack of funding for the state plan earlier this year at the state Capitol.
School districts across the state initially said they would need between $275 million and $300 million to implement the state model.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne estimated the cost at $20 million.
Lawmakers came up with $40 million. But $40 million is what TUSD officials initially estimated that district, alone, would need to pay for teachers, extra classrooms, training, supplies and testing materials, among other things.
Horne is telling schools this week they shouldn't avoid enrolling students in immersion classes while the funding issue is debated.