Applauded in Arizona
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
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
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: