Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant School Policy

By Khin Mai Aung — July 02, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The much-publicized Arizona legislation known as SB 1070, a criminal statute allowing local law enforcement to demand proof of immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion,” is disturbing and xenophobic. It is a particularly heavy-handed development in a state where unprecedented anti-immigrant sentiment has festered for years. The immigration-related aspects of this backlash have justifiably garnered considerable public attention.

But the state has pursued similarly draconian policies in other arenas, one of them education. This spring, the Arizona Department of Education issued citations to several school districts throughout the state for hiring teachers who speak English with a Spanish accent.

As a civil rights lawyer who advocates for immigrants and low-income students of color in public education, I am alarmed by this development. Several years ago, I represented three Massachusetts teachers fired on the basis of faulty and discriminatory English-fluency tests. My clients were veteran math and science teachers born in Cambodia and Puerto Rico who taught successfully for years in Massachusetts. After years of litigation, we won the case, with full back pay and benefits. My clients have resumed doing what they do best—serving immigrant and refugee students in their community.

The recent Arizona teacher citations—based on an expansive interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act—require the districts to submit plans for corrective action, such as accent-reduction training, and could culminate in reassignment or dismissal. So far, it is not clear what standards of fluency Arizona is using, or how those standards are being applied. My clients’ experiences in Massachusetts have revealed that this is a dangerous road to tread.

This is not the first time Arizona has cracked down on immigrant and English-language-learner students in its public education system. Just this spring, it passed a state education law intended to eliminate ethnic studies in public schools, and Arizona’s efforts to override English-language learners’ federal right to an equal education have been litigated before the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, Horne v. Flores, the state department of education pursued yet another novel and overly broad interpretation of the No Child Left Behind Act, arguing that it had eviscerated English-language-learner protections in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. Fortunately, the court decided the case on other grounds, leaving intact the EEOA.

Schools should be commended—not disciplined—for hiring and retaining staff members who understand their students’ cultures.

Now, reports have surfaced that undocumented families fearful of Senate Bill 1070 are withdrawing their children from Arizona public schools, despite long-standing and undisputed U.S. Supreme Court precedent that undocumented children may attend public schools. Furthermore, SB 1070 and Arizona’s current education policies marginalize all immigrants—regardless of immigration status—and make them feel unwelcome.

What Arizona and other states really need are education policies that welcome all students, and make them feel included and valued. Our schools are becoming increasingly diverse, and need appropriate staffing and resources to adequately serve their pupils. To be effective, teachers must connect with their students. Schools should be commended—not disciplined—for hiring and retaining staff members who understand their students’ cultures. Experienced, credentialed teachers with good track records at teaching English-language learners should not be singled out because they speak accented English. This is especially true in a state like Arizona, which faces a severe teacher shortage.

Schools must also provide professional development for all teachers—including training in English-language-learner teaching methods and cultural awareness. Moreover, schools with large English-language-learner populations should have teaching materials tailored to these students’ needs. Arizona’s students would be better served by improving efforts to bolster teacher training and retention, and making sure schools have appropriate course materials, rather than spending precious resources on questioning the English skills of proven teachers.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 2010 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States Have Restricted Teaching on Social Justice. Is Teacher Preparation Next?
A new Florida law will restrict what teacher-preparation programs can teach about racism and sexism.
5 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month that would restrict teacher training and educator preparation institutes from teaching on social justice.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week