GUHSD responds to ELL mandate
Arizona Republic
Feb. 21, 2008



Thursday, February 21, 2008    

The Glendale Union High School District is a reflection of today’s global society.
At any given time, about 1,200 -- or 8.5 percent of students -- are classified English Language Learners, district administrator Karen Merritt said earlier this week, with 40 to 50 languages spoken among them.
“Of those, 200 are consistently refugees. They have political asylum here,” Merritt said.
Africans, Iraqis and Burmese teens attend GUHSD schools.
Not only does the district boast 1,200 English language learners, nearly one-third, or 5,000, GUHSD students come from homes where parents either currently or at one time did not speak English. The district has a total enrollment of approximately 15,000.
Statistics like these are why Merritt, the district’s English Language Learner (ELL) coordinator, was eager to serve on the state ELL Task Force charged with creating models of instruction. Still, she was one of only two practitioners on the nine-member group.
Merritt presented the acceptable instructional models, which are required beginning the 2008-2009 school year, to the Glendale Union Governing Board at the Jan. 23 regular meeting.
“It’s the latest legislative response to Tim Hogan’s lawsuit of 15 years ago,” she said. Hogan is executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. In 1992, the group initiated the Flores v. State of Arizona suit in U.S. District Court, Tucson, alleging the state failed to properly support funding for English language learners in Arizona’s public schools.
This latest response “is very prescriptive,” Merritt said. “Right now, school districts are absolutely required by law to implement these models.”
The models require four hours of instructional time; prescribed content and class sizes; groupings by English proficiency; and entry and exit based on composite scores from a language proficiency assessment. School districts are required to submit their selection to the Arizona Department of Education by Feb. 8.
GUHSD officials also plan to submit an alternative model that allows ELL students who are on track to graduate to reduce the number of required classes to three to ensure graduation.
Merritt said the new models allow “no wiggle room for districts to design their own programs,” but there is good news in the requirements.
“This is the first consistent plan,” she said. “Also, with four hours a day of time on task, students will exit the program sooner, which is what we want.”
But school officials say ELL instruction has been mandated, but not funded.
GUHSD Superintendent Warren Jacobson, along with 105 other superintendents from across the state, gathered at the Capitol last month to demand funding for the ELL program. Jacobson said the group presented “some pretty straight-forward cost analyses” showing an additional $304 million is required above current funding for ELL programs.
“Our contention is since we are fully in compliance with the state mandate, that they are responsible to fund the program,” Jacobson said.
Board members approved the models.
Governing Board Member Kevin Clayborn called the requirement “a whitewash by state officials to hide the fact that they don’t adequately fund education,” but noted that state statute required an approval.
“If we don’t approve this, we have the opportunity to lose other dollars,” Clayborn said.
He also warned against “getting caught up in the issues of the day,” apparently speaking about immigration. “This is not about teaching kids who speak Spanish English. This is about teaching students who speak 50 different languages English.”
Reach the reporter at or 623-847-4611.