Lesson from Massachusetts

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 30, 2008 1 min read
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If school district officials are going to require teachers to be fluent in English, they need to be careful how they enforce that requirement. That seems to be the lesson from a court case in Massachusetts that involved the firing of three teachers by the Lowell school district. My colleague Mark Walsh has written about a state appeals court decision concerning that case over at The School Law Blog. The appeals court backed the teachers. Stephen Sawchuk at Teacher Beat writes about the decision as well. I first reported on the situation in 2003.

The court case involved teachers whose first language was not English and who were certified to teach mainstream math and science. The court decision said one of the teachers who was fired taught bilingual biology classes and the other two taught both bilingual and mainstream classes. So all three would have taught English-language learners.

This seems to be a good time to point out that 2005 nonregulatory guidance by the U.S. Department of Education of the No Child Left Behind Act requires that teachers of English-language learners be “fluent in English.” The guidance says that teachers of ELLs who teach in programs funded by Title III, the section of NCLB pertaining to English-acquisition programs, “must be fluent in English and any other language in which they provide instruction, including having written and oral communication skills.”

The guidance doesn’t say how school districts should determine that teachers are fluent in English. I haven’t reported on this, so I have no clue whether school districts are following the guidance or not.

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