Time to fund our efforts to teach English
Arizona Republic
March 17, 2008


Susan Carlson
Special for The Republic

What is the true cost of educating English-language learners? That's the ultimate question. It doesn't really matter that superintendents collectively say the true cost is $304 million and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne says it's $40.6 million. The Legislature has to fund an immersion program for more than 130,000 students beginning next school year.

The Arizona Business and Education Coalition believes that the bickering has to stop, now. The issues are the number and quality of new teachers that need to be hired and how much additional classroom space these teachers will need to educate English language learners four hours a day, five days a week. The English Language Learner Task Force should study these issues and make funding recommendations. They should engage the School Facilities Board to suggest recommendations for the space issues and consider what Horne and the superintendents have to say.

Many educators are joined by university researchers in questioning the ELL model, which requires English-language learners be separated into four groups by ability and moved to different classrooms daily with different teachers.

But experts have said that language is best acquired by learners immersed in the culture and language alongside English-speaking peers and supported with rich, meaningful instruction focused on experience.

The overarching goal for our educational system and our legislators must be to enable these children to be successful contributors to their own economic success, because we all will benefit. To do otherwise is shortsighted and buried in politics.

Research tells us that high-performing education systems worldwide assure that resources and funding are targeted to those students who need them most. Those systems, however, determine for themselves how to classify and teach students in need. This crisis continues to be an embarrassment for our state.

Reach the author at 602-261-6700 or susan@azbec.org. Visit her blog at education.azcentral.com.