Florida Teachers Disagree on Amount of Preparation for Reading Teachers

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 15, 2007 2 min read
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Some teachers of English as a second language and professors in the field are trying to convince Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to veto a bill that some other teachers have worked very hard to get introduced and passed. The bill, passed earlier this month by both the Florida House and Senate, would decrease to 60 from 300 the number of in-service hours of English-as-a-second-language training required of reading teachers who want to work with English-language learners.

The idea for the bill came from the Clay County Education Association, which represents 2,500 teachers and is affiliated with the Florida Education Association and the National Education Association.

Constance Higginbotham, the president of the Clay County Education Association, told me in an interview last week that because of a state consent decree signed in 1990, English-language learners are assured of having an English-language arts teacher who is required to have had 300 hours of specialized training to work with such students. It’s “unnecessary,” she contended, to require that same level of specialized training for reading teachers who work with English-language learners as well.

But Rosa Castro Feinberg, who is retired as an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Florida International University, said that teachers and professors participating in a listserv she manages that was set up by the Sunshine State TESOL of Florida have organized to try to convince Gov. Crist to veto the bill. (Their organization and the Bilingual Association of Florida, which is affiliated with the National Association for Bilingual Education, are in the process of writing a position statement on the bill.) They argue that English-language learners need reading teachers who are trained extensively in their special needs. Ms. Castro Feinberg said the 300 hours now required include courses in applied linguistics, cross-cultural communication, curriculum development, testing, and methods.

“You can’t do all of that in one 60-hour course,” Ms. Castro Feinberg said in a phone interview.

Ms. Feinberg and others who oppose the bill interpret Florida’s consent decree as requiring the 300 hours for reading teachers, while Ms. Higginbotham and the Clay County Education Association disagree with that interpretation.

I gather from my conversations with both of these women that there’s no shortage of passion on both sides of the debate.

(Read the Florida Senate’s bill, S2512, here.)

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