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Intensive Immersion Applauded in Arizona

 

Q. Parents of non-English speaking students say that their children are going to be left too far behind if they are given only an hour or so of direct English instruction in school. That is why so many people are against "bilingual education," because it doesn't bring them up to speed in English quickly enough. Is "intensive immersion" too difficult or too expensive? Or is it a good idea?

 

There are educators who believe that it is too boring to make non-English speaking students focus just on reading, writing and speaking English for more than half of the school day. They say kids need games and hands-on activities, rather than long hours studying and memorizing. But "intensive immersion" is the intervention that is now gaining steam in Arizona schools. And its fans proclaim it to be a great idea for kids.

 

According to the superintendent of public instruction for Arizona, Tom Horne, in three Arizona districts last year which moved to the four-hour model, they were able to reclassify twice as many students as "English proficient" than the year before.

 

Nationwide, he said, four years is the average national rate of being able to move a student from being considered "non-English speaking" to "English proficient. Horne called that "pathetically" slow. He said schools in Europe and Asia, and on U.S. military bases, use intensive immersion and have for years.

 

Proponents of immersion claim that it can save significant amounts of money, since the slower "bilingual education" model pays for extra ELL teachers who aren't needed once the students are English proficient, and often, bilingual programs pay translators to go with students into mainstream classes, another additional expense that wouldn't be as necessary with immersion.

 

Arizona has 138,000 English Language Learners, or ELL, students. In most schools, they receive only 30 to 60 minutes a day of specific instruction in English grammar. Horne and others believe that needs to be vastly increased in order to mainstream them more quickly and successfully into all other course work.

 

Research that supports the efficacy of immersion is found at:

 

www.ade.az.gov/oelas/downloads/modelcomponentresearch.pdf

 

 

However, there are critics, including an Arizona State University education professor, Margarita Jimenez-Silva. She argues that the immersion model may help students do well on standardized tests, but that doesn't guarantee they'll be able to use their English language skills, gained in isolation while being directly taught English, when they go into other classrooms, such as science and math.

 

However, Horne said that the Arizona model explicitly requires that English be taught in the context of all academic subjects. He and others suggest that the educators and policymakers who support the traditional bilingual education model do so because it means more years in the system for students, which translates into more money and power for those employed in ELL programs - but not necessarily what's best for the students themselves.

 

The ELL picture in Arizona has been influenced by a long-running federal court case, Flores vs. Arizona, which is prompting the state's education officials to improve its educational programs for English language learners.


Homework: Innovations in ELL don't stop with Arizona. Take a look at how Florida used a back-to-the-basics approach along with school choice and the end of social promotion policies to improve the achievement of its low-income and English language learner students, to the point where English Language Learners, mostly Hispanics, in Florida do better on standardized tests as the entire student populations of 15 states, including Arizona. See a report on:

 

www.goldwaterinstitute.org/Common/Img/Demography%20Defeated.pdf

 

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Special Learners 16 2008

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