Senate president to kill highly supported ELL bill

Katie Campbell//April 9, 2018

Senate president to kill highly supported ELL bill

Katie Campbell//April 9, 2018

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A bill to eliminate the state’s four-hour-a-day English language learning requirement for students whose second language is English has reached the Senate with nearly unanimous support, but Senate President Steve Yarbrough may kill it.

Yarbrough told the Arizona Capitol Times on April 5 that he likely wouldn’t allow House Bill 2435 to be heard on the Senate floor. He said he was around for the crafting of the four-hour blocks, and he believes the model is working.

ELL students are currently required to have four hours of language instruction per day, but HB 2435 would instead require the State Board of Education to adopt models devoting far less time to English instruction.

Under the bill, students in Kindergarten through sixth grade would instead spend two hours per day and seventh through 12th graders would spend 100 minutes per day on language learning.

Yarbrough may have found an unlikely ally in his dissent.

Freshman Rep. Geraldine Peten, D-Goodyear, cast the only no vote so far for HB 2435.

“You’re reducing this intensive instruction based on what information, what data, what best practices?” she said. “Where’s your evidence that two hours is going to be better than the four?”

Peten said she worked at the Arizona Department of Education as a class-action lawsuit filed in 1992, Flores v. Arizona, raged. The lawsuit alleged that the four hours a day devoted to language learning deprived ELL students of adequate learning in other subject areas.

In 2000, Judge Raner Collins of the U.S. District Court in Tucson ruled in Flores’ favor, finding the state’s funding for ELL students was arbitrary.

The case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said the classes were improperly funded.

The case then returned to Collins, who ruled in favor of the state on the issue of the four-hour blocks, finding that the model didn’t violate state law even while conceding some students would be left behind in other subject areas.

An appeal was made with the support of the federal government, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas commented that the state would never satisfy the feds.

Peten said the current four-hour model was the result of a long process of developing a curriculum and criteria to ensure students became proficient in English.

Each student is different, she said, but the intensive instruction model was determined to work best. In any case, she said it was a decision best left to educators, not legislators.

But advocates of the bill say it will end the segregation of ELL students from their English-speaking peers.

Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, said the bill will also require the state to formalize the process of tracking students’ success and analyze results to determine the most effective models.

Garcia said the currently mandated four-hour block devoted to English language development was intended to encourage growth but simply has not.

“We have a good chunk, almost an entire generation, of students that haven’t been able to hit the goals that they need to hit in order to graduate on time or graduate period,” she said.

Garcia said the model under HB 2435 would be similar to that used for students with special education needs who have individualized education plans, or IEPs. Those students may receive special time away from their peers without IEPs, but they are also reintegrated with those students throughout the day.

Similarly, Garcia said the bill would allow ELL students to spend more time with their peers who speak English fluently.

“If I moved to Japan and wanted to learn Japanese, I wouldn’t want to be in a room with other Americans who are trying to learn Japanese,” she explained. “I would want to be integrated with Japanese fluently speaking people and be able to pick up the language from there.”