Stanford Profs Oppose Arizona Stance on Teachers’ Accents

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 23, 2010 2 min read
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A long list of professors from Stanford University’s school of education have signed a statement condemning the Arizona Department of Education’s stance that teachers with strong accents shouldn’t be teaching English-language learners. “Not only is Arizona’s policy based on uninformed linguistic and educational assumptions, but such a policy also has the potential to unfairly target Latina/o teachers and their students by removing the very teachers who may be best qualified to teach them,” the statement says.

Let me pause here to say Arizona education officials weren’t clear in explaining to me what their policy is when I pressed them about it after the Wall Street Journal reported on April 30 that Arizona education officials had been telling school districts that they had to remove teachers who had “heavily accented or ungrammatical” English from classrooms with English-language learners.

Adela Santa Cruz, the deputy associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education, told me in late May that Wall Street Journal reporter Miriam Jordan “misinterpreted” and “misquoted” what she and other state education officials said about the English fluency of teachers in the state. I asked Jordan in an e-mail message to respond to that charge, and I haven’t gotten a reply from her.

“At no time did we say, you have to remove [teachers] and put them somewhere else,” Santa Cruz told me in a phone interview then. “We did have the authority to say to the administrators at the local level that they needed to look at the fluency of the teachers and assist them.”

But at the same time, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, went on the air with CNN in late May saying that state officials are concerned about teachers with “faulty English.”

Interestingly, the Arizona education department has provided a link to the blog post I wrote on its Web site under the category “articles of interest.”

Education department officials didn’t give me anything in writing about their policy, if it is that. But I was sent a protocol in writing that state officials use when observing teachers that includes a section on whether the teacher uses correct pronunciation and grammar in English.

The signers of the statement by Stanford professors include well-known experts in second-language acquisition such as Kenji Hakuta and Guadalupe Valdez.

The department of linguistics at the University of Arizona and the National Council of Teachers of English have also condemned the so-called policy. Update: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. and its Arizona affiliate issued a joint statement opposing it as well.

I’m on Horne’s list to receive any press releases, and he hasn’t put out any statements further clarifying the issue.

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