Arizona Spells Out “Research-Based” Models for English Immersion

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 17, 2007 2 min read
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Arizona policymakers are using a buzz phrase popular in education circles in saying the models for structured English immersion that school districts must implement this fall are “research-based.” But a document released by the Arizona Department of Education citing research to back those models shows that, for some aspects of the models, the research base is scant. The document acknowledges that high-quality research in general about instruction for English-language learners is limited.

The state is calling for English-language learners, in their first year in U.S. schools, to receive four hours of instruction each day in a separate block of time for English-language development. But the document cites only one study that shows it’s more effective for English-language learners to have a fixed block of time each day in which they focus on developing their English-language skills than not to have it. What’s more, the document doesn’t cite any research that tells how long that block of time should be. The document also doesn’t cite any research telling why it makes sense for the state to favor English immersion over bilingual methods, which the state has done since Arizona voters passed a ballot measure in 2000 that curtailed bilingual education.

In a telephone interview last week, Tom Horne, the Arizona superintendent of public instruction, told me that a study by Joseph M. Guzman published in Education Next in the fall of 2002 supports the use of structured English immersion with ELLs. (One expert in the field says that study’s use of data doesn’t provide valid inferences on whether bilingual education or English immersion is better. See here.)

Arizona’s requirement that school districts provide four hours of English-language development each day is contained in a law passed in the 2005-2006 school year, but most school districts didn’t implement that law, according to Mr. Horne. He said some are providing ELLs with “as little as a half-hour” of such instruction per day.

But now, he said, a task force for ELLs has spelled out what those four hours of English instruction should look like. A June 21 memo to school district superintendents says ELLs at the two lowest levels of English proficiency should receive 45 minutes of oral English and conversation; an hour each of grammar, reading, and vocabulary; and 15 minutes of pre-writing instruction.

The Arizona Republic ran an article on July 14 telling more about the implementation of the policy.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.