English learner instruction flexibility bill remains in House Rules - AZEdNews
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English learner instruction flexibility bill remains in House Rules

Tucson Unified School District's Dual Language Program Coordinator Anna Manzano Speaks In Support Of HCR 2001 At The House Education Committee Meeting Jan. 27, 2020. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

A bill that education advocates say will provide more English learner instruction flexibility was held for a second week in the House Rules Committee.

House Concurrent Resolution 2001, sponsored by House Education Committee Vice Chair John Fillmore, (R-LD 16),  would repeal – pending voter approval – the requirement that all children in Arizona public schools be taught English through English instruction in English language classrooms and eliminates the waivers parents must apply for in order to transfer their children to classes that are taught through bi-lingual education techniques.

“I drew up this bill up last year, it passed through the House. I’m very proud again to bring the bill forward. I hope we can get it to fruition this year and get it passed so it goes out to the people,” Rep. Fillmore said.

HCR 2001 “gives an equal footing to some of the kids who are being held back and not given an equal opportunity to learn other courses besides English, and I think it’s also an opportunity for our English speaking kids to pick up a second language,” Rep. Fillmore said.

HCR 2001 would add that “each public school in the state shall ensure that all English Language Learners receive the highest quality of education, master the English language and access high-quality, innovative, research-based language programs” adopted and approved by the state board of education.

The bill would also amend the current law to read that “notwithstanding any other law, school districts and charter schools may establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and nonnative English speakers,” provide effective and appropriate instructional methods, establish English language acquisition programs and “solicit community and stakeholder input on these methods and programs.”

Bill remains in Rules Committee

The House Education Committee gave HCR 2001, a due pass recommendation during their Jan. 27, 2020 meeting with a vote of 10 ayes, 1 nay and 2 absent during their meeting Jan. 27, 2020.

HCR 2001 is similar to last year’s HCR 2026, which Rep. Fillmore sponsored, that the House approved 59 to 1, was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee, but died after it was not voted on by the whole Senate.

House Rules Chairman Anthony Kern, (R-LD 20), held the bill for the past two meetings, but did not say why.

“We will be holding House Bill 2237 and HCR 2001. Those two bills will be held today,” House Rules Chairman Kern said at the Feb. 10 meeting.

The House Rules Committee lets Legislators receive staff attorneys’ advice to determine if a bill is constitutional. Bills must be approved to be constitutional and in proper form by the House Rules Committee before they next go to the House floor to be voted on by all members of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Around this time last year, Rep. Kern held 70 bills – later reduced to 37 bills – in the House Rules Committee, which led some Legislators to complain he was abusing his power, according to an Arizona Capitol Times article.

If HCR 2001 is approved by both the House and Senate, Arizona’s Secretary of State is required to submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election.

Supt. Hoffman voices support

“Our agency also needs the partnership of all of you – our lawmakers – to implement policies to allow teachers to follow best practices and effectively lead their classrooms. This starts with repealing the English-only law,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman during her address Feb. 3, 2020 to the House Education Committee.

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Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says she supports HCR 2001 during her address Feb. 3, 2020 to the House Education Committee. Photo courtesy of Arizona Capitol Television

In 2000, voters approved the English-only law – Proposition 203 – which banned bi-lingual education and required students to take a daily four-hour block of English immersion during school.

Last session, Legislators passed Senate Bill 1014, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, (R-LD 20), which was later signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey, giving schools the flexibility to reduce the amount of time English Language Learners spent in Structured English Immersion from four hours each school day to two hours a day.

The change gives English learners more time to interact with their peers, access electives and other learning opportunities and help students progress academically with their peers in required classes, increasing their graduation rate and reducing the dropout rate.

“For too long, educators have been handcuffed to a policy that inhibits English Language Learning for our multi-lingual students,” Supt. Hoffman said. “Research shows this harmful policy drives the disproportionate outcomes we see among our students, particularly within our high school graduation rates.”

“Last week, you passed HCR 2001 out of this committee. Let’s keep this bill moving and send the English Language only law back to the voters to repeal it once and for all,” Supt. Hoffman said. “By taking this step, Arizona teachers will be further empowered to lead all of their students to success.”

Education advocates views

Anna Manzano, the dual-language program coordinator for Tucson Unified School District who has taught English learners for 22 years, spoke in support of HCR 2001.

Tucson Unified has just under 5,000 English learners, there are 94 different languages represented, and the language programs range from dual-language immersion to structured English instruction, said Manzano, at the Jan. 27, 2020, House Education Committee meeting.

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Tucson Unified School District’s Dual Language Program Coordinator Anna Manzano speaks in support of HCR 2001 at the House Education Committee meeting Jan. 27, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Tucson Unified “is building and expanding our two-way dual-language immersion programs, which provide pathways for students to attain high levels of academic achievement in conjunction with bi-lingualism, bi-literacy and cross-cultural competencies in order to become global citizens,” Manzano said.

The two-way dual-language immersion programs also provide “students the opportunity to attain the Seal of Bi-Literacy upon graduation from high school,” which employers and institutions of higher education value, Manzano said.

Tucson Unified currently has 11 schools with two-way dual-language immersion programs, Manzano said.

“Our team selected the early immersion program for our students, because it has been backed by years of research to allow students to achieve high levels of academic achievement. This includes English Language Learners,” Manzano said.

“Students participating in the two-way dual-language immersion program achieve at or above the performance levels of their peers in mainstream classrooms,” Manzano said.

“Two-way dual-language immersion requires a linguistic balance of students who are English dominant and students whose primary language is that of the target language” to support “peer to peer English Language Learning,” Manzano said.

“Due to Arizona’s current English-only law – Proposition 203 – English learners who cannot demonstrate good English and are under the age of 10 are excluded from participating in early immersion programs,” Manzano said. “English learners are key to fortifying the academic and the language learning achievement that is mutually shared between both language groups.”

“As a consequence of Proposition 203, our district struggles to linguistically balance its classrooms, and linguistically balanced classrooms are key components to the success of these programs,” Manzano said.

“We encourage you to give this bill the support needed to move forward toward local decision making and selecting the programs that are best for our school communities,” Manzano said.

But Johanna Haver, who wrote three books on English language learner education and spent 19 years teaching English learners, said she opposed the bill.

“One thing that this bill does that I have a problem with is that it gets rid of the Proposition 203 mandate that several years ago limited bilingual education, and that happened for a reason,” Haver said.

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Johanna Haver, who wrote three books on English language learner education and spent 19 years teaching English learners, said she opposed the bill. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“At that time, back in the late nineties, only four percent of English learners were reaching English language competency every year,” Haver said. “We had huge numbers of children graduating from our high schools who could not speak English – mostly Spanish speakers.”

Haver said she thought too little time is spent instructing students in English in Tucson Unified’s dual-language program.

“In kindergarten and first grade, only 30 minutes is devoted to students in English – instruction in English,” Haver said. “These children are four to seven years old – the best ages for children to learn a second language – but even a genius, Spanish-speaking child would have difficulty learning English in such short intervals. Whereas the English speakers would do quite well learning English.”

“Dual language programs are a really good idea. I am definitely for them, but not for English Learners,” Haver said and urged Legislators not to pass the bill.

Geoff Esposito, who was at the meeting on behalf of UnidosUS, spoke in support of the bill.

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Geoff Esposito, who was at the meeting on behalf of UnidosUS, spoke in support of the bill. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“We think this is a really important, common-sense thing to refer to the voters that will give students who are English learners the same flexibility and opportunities that the rest of our students already have to access high-quality, dual language programs to help them actually learn the English language,” Esposito said. “This is something that we’re really passionate about.”

“This referral to the ballot would expand the flexibility of our schools to engage in research-based programs like dual-language (immersion), which help students whose primary language may be Spanish or Diné or Mandarin to learn English,” Esposito said. “These two-way dual-language immersion programs are what works elsewhere and are known as best-practices across the country.”

Stacey Morley, government affairs director for Stand for Children, said that HCR 2001 follows up on the progress made last year in reducing the amount of time students spend in structured English instruction.

“Today the State Board of Education adopted the new models of ELL instruction with the flexibility you allowed them in this other bill,” Morley said. “This would allow even more flexibility and more local control and instruction designed for the students that they serve.”

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Stacey Morley with Stand for Children talks about why she’s there to support HCR 2001 which would remove some ELL instruction requirements during the House Education Committee meeting on Jan. 27, 2020. Photo by Morgan Willis/AZEdNews

Morley said the current English-only mandate means English language learners must take the AzMERIT in English.

Students “may understand the content and be able to perform on some of these assessments, but because they cannot be provided the instructions in the language that they’re more natural in, they can’t perform as well,” Morley said.

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, (D-LD 28), asked Morley, if “dual language is in fact the best path or is in fact the most effective way to educate?”

“It is for most students,” Morley said. “But again we’re not mandating dual language.We’re mandating quality instruction and whatever that looks like for the school’s type of students you serve.”

“Right now, we have a mandated one-size-fits-all instruction type that we’ve loosened up a little bit, but we still have it because of the voter protected language,” Morley said.

“We need to let local school districts and local communities, within the quality framework that we insist upon at the state level, be able to do that and serve their own students,” Morley said.