We all recognize that state departments of education are hurting. Even once they receive a significant financial booster shot from the federal stimulus to help pay for core instructional needs, states are still looking for places to trim, cut, or generally push back on. Usually, we think that such cuts should first be directed at those areas considered expendable, the sort of luxuries our schools want, but just can’t afford during these belt-tightening times.
Who ever would have thought that such expendable programs would be English Language Learning efforts in the state of Arizona. Unbelievable, but true. Over in the Grand Canyon State, the state superintendent has recommended that the Arizona Legislature remove $30 million in ELL funding from the state budget, a nearly three-quarters cut in what was intended.
The full story can be found in the Arizona Republic — <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/02/13/20090213horne0213.html.
Eduflack is not going to quibble with State Supe Tom Horne that Arizona is making great strides in ELL instruction. I want to believe that Arizona school districts are doubling fluency rates under current efforts, and more and more students are becoming English language proficient. I even want to believe Horne when Arizona will see “a dramatic increase in the percentage of students becoming proficient in English quickly.”
But our actions often speak far louder than our rhetoric. Last year, Arizona provided its K-12 schools $40 million to implement new ELL provisions, state standards that many say require at least $275 million to staff and equip with fidelity. So as the districts start to demonstrate improvement, even very early in the process, our response is to cut funding because clearly the program has already demonstrated effectiveness and accomplished its intended goals? Foolishness.
Like it or not, the ESL population in states like Arizona will continue to grow. School districts will continue to face increased needs to deal with non-English speakers, integrate them into the schools quickly, and ensure they are gaining core instruction in math, science, and even literacy in their native language as they are trying to learn English. This is not a luxury or a value add. This is a non-negotiable, particularly in states like Arizona, Texas, and others in the Southwest.
Instead, Arizona is now looking at establishing new ways to determine English language proficiency of its students. This is akin to states that have dramatically lowered their state academic standards in math and reading to meet AYP requirements. Changing the standard doesn’t get more kids proficient, it just gets them to pass a test. And those kids who aren’t proficient are the ones that will struggle in school, may ultimately drop out, and will be unable to attain and retain good jobs that will pay the rent and support a family.
Let’s hope the Arizona Legislature takes a close look at its citizens, and its taxpayers, and realizes that Superintendent Horne’s request is a lose-lose-lose position. It is a loser for the schools, who will be forced to deal with a growing problem with fewer dollars. It is a loser for the students, many of whom have come to the United States for that better education and opportunity in the first place. And it is a loser for the state, as they sacrifice a significant portion of the next generation of taxpayer and worker, the very engines that will drive the Arizona economy in the decades to come.