Federal Court: Two Years Isn’t Long Enough

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 28, 2008 1 min read
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Tom Hutton, a lawyer for the National School Boards Association, made an interesting point in an interview with me this morning about a federal appeals court ruling last Friday in the 15-year-old Flores v. Arizona case. My colleague Mark Walsh and I have already blogged about this ruling from the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, regarding English-language learners in Arizona.

The appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that a law passed by the Arizona legislature in 2006 does not satisfy a previous ruling of the lower court from 2000 that the state must provide adequate funding for English-language learners. One reason the law isn’t sufficient, the appeals court judges say, is that it contains a limit of two years on the amount of time that an ELL is eligible to benefit from funding for specialized instruction.

The appeals court ruling says on page 83: “There is absolutely no evidence in the record to support the proposition that a student’s need for ELL programs invariably vanishes after two years of instruction: instead the evidence is squarely to the contrary, as all witnesses testified that some students would certainly take longer than two years to become proficient in English.”

I assume some of you have been in the field long enough to remember that lots of people were at one point going around saying that English-language learners ought to be able to learn English in a year.

Arizona, California, and Massachusetts passed laws based on that premise.

Those same people who promoted those laws aren’t coming forward these days to say that, in fact, it has been possible for children to learn English in a year.

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