Lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives show support for including English Language Learners in dual-language immersion programs at public schools.
The Arizona Legislature’s House Minority and Majority Caucuses House gave due pass recommendations yesterday to House Concurrent Resolution 2005, which would allow public district and charter schools to establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and nonnative English speakers.
Passage of HCR 2005, sponsored by Rep. John Fillmore, would repeal sections of statute created when Arizona voters approved Prop. 203, also known as English Language Education for Children in Public Schools Act in 2000, and direct the Arizona Secretary of State to submit this proposition to voters in the next general election. It received a due pass recommendation in the House Education Committee last week.
The bill would repeal – upon voter approval – a statute that requires all children enrolled in Arizona public schools be taught English through English language instruction in English language classrooms and eliminate statute that would allow a parent to apply for a waiver to transfer their student to a class teaching subjects through bilingual educational techniques only if certain criteria are met.
“It’s a common-sense fix, and the last piece we need to provide English Learners with the education they need to actually learn the language,” said Geoff Esposito on behalf of UnidosUS. Then he thanked Rep. Fillmore for sponsoring this legislation for several past legislative sessions.
Video by Jacquelyn Gonzales/AZEdNews: #Legislative Legit: Dual-Language Immersion for English Learners
HCR 2005 “will remove the barriers that prevent English learners from participating in dual-language programs,” said Anna Manzano, dual language program coordinator for Tucson Unified School District, who has taught students in various bilingual education models for 23 years.
“This will permit both dominant English-speaking students and English Learners the opportunities to acquire bilingualism, biliteracy and high academic achievement.” Manzano said. “As a result, participating Arizona students will be assets to our local and distant communities as 21st century global citizens.”
Tucson Unified’s team of experts in language acquisition provides language programs ranging from Structured English Immersion (SEI) to two-way dual- language immersion to students and serves just under 5,000 English Language Learners (ELL) with about 94 languages represented, Manzano said.
“Two-way dual-language immersion requires a linguistic balance of students who are English dominant and English Learners to support the peer-to-peer language learning,” Manzano said. “English Learners are key to fortifying the academic language achievement that is needed between both language groups.”
“Years of research have demonstrated that two-way dual language models yield high levels of academic achievements for all students,” Manzano said. “Students participating in two-way dual language achieve at or above the performance level of their mainstream peers in two languages.”
Tucson Unified is expanding its two-way dual language programs, Manzano said.
“Two-way dual-language programs strengthen educational outcomes for all students including English Learners and provides a pathway for Arizona students to attain the State of Arizona Seal of Biliteracy upon graduation,” Manzano said.
How Arizona’s ELL model came about
Proposition 203 was put on the ballot in several states in 2000 by a Silicon Valley businessman, and “Arizona is now the only state left that has this law on the books. All the others have repealed it,” Esposito said.
“It’s easy to see why, because between the year 2003 and 2019, English Learners in Arizona have actually seen their performance on the fourth-grade English NAPE decrease by three percentage points,” Esposito said. “English Language Learners performance has actually gotten worse while this law has been in effect.”
A couple sessions ago, the Arizona Legislature gave schools much needed flexibility, “but schools still have a lot of barriers to providing students with the type of education that we know is most effective, particularly dual-language programs,” Esposito said.
Dual-language programs are often recruitment tools for schools through open enrollment and other choice options where students can learn Mandarin, Diné, or other languages, Esposito said.
“We use it to teach these English-speaking students new languages, but we can’t use it to help other students learn English,” Esposito said.
“This is a popular policy, it’s needed, and we know it works, ” Esposito said.
A Public Opinions Strategies poll showed this issue led by 40 percent with voters, including by 20 percent among base Republicans, and “Republican women had, in fact, one of the highest levels of support with 74 percent support and just 12 percent opposed,” Esposito said.
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Rep. Brett M. Roberts asked if the bill included language that “if an administrator or someone doesn’t go along with this that they can be held personally liable or something to that effect?”
‘That’s in the original proposition, and that would be what is repealed,” said House Education Chair Rep. Michelle Udall.
What the bill would change
Rep. Quang H. Nguyen said when he was 14, he did not speak any English, then asked why students are not learning English through immersion, which worked for him. He said English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction did not get him to where he needed to be.
Prop. 203 required Structured English Immersion, but “what it actually has ended up being is lumping all the kids that don’t speak English together and putting them in classrooms by themselves,” said Chair Udall.
Arizona’s Structured English Immersion puts English learners “into a classroom where only the teacher is speaking English, but all of their classmates don’t speak English so they’re not getting those opportunities to converse with peers that know the language,” Chair Udall said. “They’re left in that classroom four hours of the day. That’s the problem we’re trying to fix.”
“The dual immersion program means half your kids speak English and half your kids speak whatever language is being learned,” Chair Udall said. “Half the day is taught in one language and half the day is taught in the other, so you’re around native speaking peers in both languages. And those programs – like what you and your wife probably went through – are much more effective.”
Arizona Capitol Television: House Education Committee Meeting Jan. 19, 2021 on HCR 2005
“My understanding is that the goal here is to assist nonnative speakers to learn English and ultimately getting this on the ballot and changing the law would help them learn English better than under the current law,” said Rep. Joel John,
“Yes, that is exactly it,” Esposito said. “We lag behind a lot of our other peer states when we look at places like Texas and Florida and even Utah on those NAPE scores. We’re 20 percent behind their achievement rates for this same cohort of students.”
“We have failed these kids, quite frankly, and we need to remove the barriers that exist out there to helping them learn English and have access to these high-quality immersive programs that will help them do that,” Esposito said.
Then, Rep. John asked how students ended up in Arizona classrooms without other students who speak English.
Prop. 203 required this “four-hour block of Structured English Immersion, where as Rep. Udall described earlier, we are essentially segregating these kids out from their native English-speaking peers and trying to intensively instruct them in the English language,” Esposito said.
“What the Legislature did a couple sessions ago was give some flexibility to how long they have to be in that four-hour block,” Esposito said. “It’s no longer specifically four hours all the time, but we still have that structure in place as the main system of teaching these students and they cannot have access to these dual-language programs because it prohibits them being taught in any other language than English.”
Arizona Dept. of Ed support for the bill
Arizona Department of Education Deputy Associate Superintendent of Legislative Affairs Aaron Wonders said, “From the Department’s perspective, we’re very excited to see this proposal coming forward again, and really hope it makes it across the finish line this year. I want to thank Rep. Fillmore for sponsoring this as well as all the stakeholders and members involved in this.”
“We know that our English Language Learners in this state have a significant achievement gap compared to non-EL students and some of that is rooted in existing frameworks in statute,” Wonders said.
Legislation passed in 2019 provided some flexibility, “but there are still some impediments this bill is seeking to address,” Wonders said.
Also, the Arizona Department of Education “has been involved with stakeholders throughout this in ensuring that existing systems and federal statues around assessments are still in place with the passage of this,” Wonders said.
Carmen Terrell, who has a student in Arizona public schools, saidshe supports HCR 2005 “100 percent.”
“This is a bill I’m happy to support, and the previous attempt to get this all the way through. I’m just thrilled to see another piece of legislation that has broad bipartisan consensus,” said Rep. Athena Salman as she voted for HCR 2005.
“I know in my district, people of both parties who are seeking this option for their students, for their kids so that Arizona’s in a position where we can be more competitive going forward,” Rep. Salman said.