Madison board balks at state English curriculum mandate
Jan. 29, 2008

Betty Reid

School districts are working to add four-hour English lessons daily to help students learn English faster.

This is in response to a state law that required districts to install an English language curriculum by August in order to get 135,000 students statewide to become English proficient.

The proposed curriculum, called English Language Development model, stems from an ongoing court case, Flores v. Arizona, that seeks to persuade lawmakers to fund English lessons at appropriate levels.

Lawmakers created the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force to come up with the curriculum, which proposes four hours of intense lessons in English grammar, phonetics, conversation, reading and writing. By February, each district must submit a budget to the state about the cost of using the models. Some Phoenix districts tackled the proposed ideas at their first governing board meeting this month.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Madison school board voiced disagreement with the state's proposed curriculum. Reasons include the cost to teach one child and the added staff that must be hired to how to fit four hours into daily schedules.

The state's curriculum also ignores math standards, because students would be pulled out daily just to focus on English, a board member said.

Board member Scott Holcomb said he is concerned about the amount of time young kids will spend in English class. Math is ignored, he said.

"How are we going to deal with math in these models so that students are not left behind?" Holcomb asked.

Madison's board asked Superintendent Tim Ham to raise the concerns at a meeting with Gov. Janet Napolitano this month. The number of Madison's beginner language learners was not available late Wednesday night.

The Phoenix Union High School District governing board heard a presentation from Deborah Gonzalez at its Jan. 10 meeting. Gonzalez, assistant superintendent for instruction, said that Phoenix Union has 3,546 English learners and that about 284 are considered beginner English learners.

The curriculum the state proposes would add 24 staff members for $1.8 million, she said.

Gonzalez also said districts, after they submit the cost of installing the curriculum, will be given a chance to turn in an alternative curriculum still abiding by the four-hour instruction. She explained that the district would spend $77,000 if it designed and adopted its own curriculum. That would include three hours of English and one hour of ELL content in math, science or social studies.

The Phoenix Union board took no action.

Statewide, it will cost more than $300 million a year to teach English to non-native speakers in Arizona's schools, school administrators said Wednesday.

Includes information from reporter Mary Jo Pitzl.