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Ariz. Educators to Get Mandatory Training in English Immersion

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 21, 2004 3 min read
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Educators say Arizona’s new plan to train all teachers and administrators in how to teach English-language learners is a good idea, but they say its success will depend on how the initiative is carried out.

Arizona appears to have become the first state to require educators who are already on the job to acquire such skills. In June, the state board of education passed a plan requiring all school administrators and classroom teachers to take 15 hours of training in structured English immersion by August 2006.

Teachers and administrators must take an additional 45 hours of instruction in structured English immersion for recertification, under the plan.

As required by statute, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard must first approve education rules so that the requirement can be implemented.

The debate over teaching English to immigrant children heated up in Arizona in 2000, when opponents of bilingual education won passage of Proposition 203, which aimed to replace such education with English-only instruction, or “structured English immersion.” (“Arizona Curtails Bilingual Education,” Nov. 15, 2000.)

Once the training begins in September, more teachers will have the tools to allow English-language learners to be moved to mainstream classes quickly, which was the intent of Proposition 203, according to Margaret Garcia Dugan, the associate superintendent for academic achievement for the Arizona Department of Education.

Ms. Dugan was a high school principal when she co-chaired the campaign to get Proposition 203 passed. The training for educators, she said, will give students who are learning English access to a greater range of teachers and thus lead to less segregation of such students.

“We believe all students should have access to all teachers and all curriculum,” she added. “We also believe that as soon as kids learn the vocabulary and are taught language early on, they should be able to mainstream as quickly as possible.”

Jennifer M. Azordegan, a researcher for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said she did not know of any state other than Arizona that requires training in instruction for English-language learners as part of its recertification requirements, though the organization doesn’t specifically track the issue.

Six states require teacher-candidates to take English-acquisition training for initial certification, she noted. Those states are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, and New York.

Quality of Instruction

Barbara J. Merino, the director of teacher education at the University of California, Davis, cautioned that the success of Arizona’s new requirement would depend on the quality of the instruction provided to educators.

“Even a limited amount of in-service training can make a huge difference,” she said. But she said that the training must be highly focused on giving teachers strategies for making their lessons understandable and providing bridges for students to acquire English skills.

“We can also put teachers in an empty, low-accountability setting, where there is a talking head, and they are simply satisfying the requirement,” she said.

Arizona educators appear to support the new requirement, but have concerns about how it will be implemented.

Maria Patterson, a supervisor of principals for the 62,000-student Tucson school system, said her district has been training teachers in structured English immersion for two years, so it’s reasonable to extend the training to all teachers.

But she said she hoped the hours that some teachers have already acquired in such methodology would be counted by the state toward meeting the new requirement.

Ms. Dugan said that the state would have to examine whether such training meets its criteria, which are being fine-tuned.

John Wright, the president of the Arizona Education Association, said the new plan doesn’t address what will happen to Arizona’s current system of providing an “endorsement” for teachers of English as a second language or bilingual education.

He said it would be a mistake if the new plan replaced or watered down such endorsements, because the state still needs teachers who are highly specialized in working with English-language learners.

Nonetheless, he believes Arizona should arm future teachers with strategies for working with English-language learners, through its teacher-preparation programs.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Ariz. Educators to Get Mandatory Training in English Immersion

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