Sunday, March 19, 2006

English-only immersion debated for Arizona schools

In November 2000, Arizona voters approved the most restrictive English-only education law in the country and prohibited textbooks, materials, bulletin boards, or teaching in any language but English. Two years later, voters reinforced their message by electing a state schools chief who promised tougher enforcement of the new law. The law nearly eliminated bilingual education programs that had been widely used in Arizona schools, classes with specially trained teachers that combined instruction in Spanish and English. To help schools comply with the new law, the state developed a model English-only immersion program.

Under the model, English-learners would be placed in English immersion classes of five to 15 students with a specially trained teacher and a teaching assistant. State planners said most students would learn enough English in one year to keep up with their peers in regular classes by their second year.

To be prepared for English-learners moving into regular classes, the state requires all teachers to complete a 15-hour workshop in English-only teaching methods by August. And under the model, schools would track students who tested out of the English-learner programs and provide tutoring and other help for those who fell behind. After six years, few schools have been able to establish that model. Schools say they can't afford the cost. The state can't afford to offer technical guidance or much oversight. And many teachers remain lukewarm on the entire idea. So instead of a uniform approach, the state's English-only immersion programs are different from classroom to classroom and district to district.

In January 2000, before the vote on English-only schools, a federal court had already decided Arizona was not spending enough on English-learner programs. That court battle has continued for six years, through the vote, through a couple of studies and through a contentious Legislature. So far, under orders from a frustrated federal judge, the state is approaching $1.5 million in daily fines while the governor and lawmakers continue to fight over what the state needs to spend to make English-learner programs work. The daily fines began Jan. 25 at $500,000, increased Friday to $1 million and will hit $1.5 million in March while politicians try to fix the problem. If the Legislature adjourns without a solution, the fines will reach $2 million a day.

There is one thing, however, the different parties appear to agree on: Arizona needs to create an English-only education system that works. Each side has its own twist on a plan, but the basic outline is the same. The state needs to create a variety of English immersion programs and send technical teams to schools to launch them. Then, it needs to track students' progress and make changes to any program not helping English-learners keep up with their peers. Beyond the basic plan, here is the status of English-learner issues today through the eyes of key players.

State: Politics and money

The battle among the court, Arizona legislators and Gov. Janet Napolitano is about how much extra money schools need to teach English-learners and how it should be distributed. Beneath the surface it is also about clashing political ideologies, illegal immigration and a November election.

For example, Republican lawmakers, who run both the state Senate and House, want the funding plan to include tax breaks for businesses that help pay for English-learners to transfer from public to private schools. Napolitano has twice vetoed that idea. The House did eventually approve a funding bill for English-language learning, backed by Republican leaders, that did not include corporate tax credits for private schools. Republican lawmakers also want schools to use federal money earmarked for children living in poverty before they ask the state for more to teach English-learners. The governor has rejected that idea, too, saying the state is responsible for funding the programs.

Lawmakers and Napolitano are aware of growing concerns among state voters that illegal immigration is out of control and responsible for filling classrooms with kids who can't speak English. In December, Arizona schools chief Tom Horne, citing Pew Research Center statistics, asked the federal government to reimburse the state $750 million a year for the cost of educating 125,000 children who are in the state illegally. But a Pew analyst said half of those children were born here and are U.S. citizens. To Horne, that was splitting hairs. "It's the federal government's fault the undocumented parents crossed over, and had they not done so, we would not be presented with these students," he said.

State Senate President Ken Bennett, a Prescott Republican, said he has an obligation to voters to turn the current "mish-mash" of programs into a structured system that will teach English in a year or two. That was the promise that sold the ballot initiative six years ago.

Becky Hill is education adviser to Napolitano. She said the governor is most interested in tracking progress of students in any new program and making changes if the program isn't working. "The governor wants schools to use what programs are within the letter of the law and that work," Hill said. "Then replicate them."

Rep. Linda Lopez, a Tucson Democrat, said the state should turn to the schools for direction. Schools have monolingual kids arriving throughout the year and at all grade levels. Some children speak survival English; others can't read in their own languages. Each school may need a variety of programs to help all the kids. "People want to paint English-language-learner kids with the same brush," Lopez said. "You can't do that."

Republican lawmakers wanted the Arizona Department of Education, run by Horne, to develop the wider variety of model programs. They did not want the 11-member State Board of Education, with its growing number of Napolitano appointees, to take the lead. Now, they've agreed to a task force but continue to wrangle about who appoints members of the task force.

Much more here

The wilful destruction of Australian education continues

English school students in Western Australia could pass their final-year exam without reading a book or being able to spell, punctuate or use correct grammar. The new Year 12 English exam instead asks students to compare posters for the films Spider-Man 2 and Gandhi, and to analyse a piece of their own writing rather than accepted greats such as Shakespeare or George Orwell.

The sample exam for the new general English course just released for the West Australian Certificate of Education says students can draw answers and are not required to use grammatically correct sentences. "Student responses can also be given in dot-point format, diagrams or other suitable alternatives to continuous prose," the marking key says. "Student responses should not be penalised for poor spelling, punctuation, grammar or handwriting, unless these are elements ... specifically being assessed."

Western Australia began implementing a new curriculum for Years 11 and 12 this year with four revised courses, including English, being offered to Year 11 for the first time. The first Year 12 exams in the new English course will be sat next year and the state's Curriculum Council said the sample paper, designed by a panel of teachers, industry and university members, was representative of future exams.

But an English head teacher at a Perth Catholic school, who did not wish to be identified, said students could get away with studying snatches of text such as posters and CD covers, and were not required to study full-length serious texts. "If you are a lazy teacher, or even a teacher who just wanted to get your students the best marks, you don't have to read a book," the teacher said. "There's too much focus on popular culture."

The exam has also been criticised for making the assumption that all forms of writing are equal, and so teenagers are asked to analyse their own writing. In the writing section, where spelling and grammar are assessed, students are asked to write about 400 words to convince a particular audience of a point of view and are then asked to analyse their own piece of writing, including its vocabulary, content and structure.

Adjunct professor in the school of education at the University of NSW Trevor Cairney said literature should not be sacrificed in an English course to broaden the types of text that students study. Professor Cairney praised the exam for the diverse writing tasks and said items such as movie posters had a place in an English course. But they should not be included at the expense of literary texts. "A child having to comment on a picture is not as important as commenting on a piece of literature that's been significant for centuries, or at least decades in the case of contemporary books," he said. "People are suggesting all textual forms are equal and it's as relevant to look at a piece of advertising as a well-known piece of literature."

Lecturer in English curriculum at the University of Western Australia's education faculty Elaine Sharplin defended the changes and said the professionalism of teachers meant they would teach novels as part of the course. But Ms Sharplin said the new course was intended to broaden the appeal of the written word to more students by studying a greater variety of texts. "There's been a change in perception that English literature is esoteric and only suited to the most talented students," she said. "We want to encourage students to engage with texts and therefore this caters for a broader range of needs by dealing with a broader range of texts."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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