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Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating Its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction?

by Mary Martinez-Wenzl, Karla Perez & Patricia Gándara - 2012

Background: In the Horne v Flores Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2009, the Court wrote that one basis for finding Arizona in compliance with federal law regarding the education of its English learners was that the state had adopted a “significantly more effective” than bilingual education instructional model for EL students --Structured English Immersion (SEI).

Purpose: This paper reviews the extant research on SEI, its definitions, origins, and its effectiveness, particularly in contrast to other instructional strategies. This paper asks, Does the research bear out the Court's conclusion? What is the evidence that Arizona’s program of SEI is really superior to other approaches, including bilingual or dual language education? How are Arizona’s EL students faring under this “significantly more effective” instructional program?

Research Design: Data on the relative effectiveness of SEI are drawn from a comprehensive review of the literature. Analysis of public documents, particularly records from the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force, which was charged with selecting a research-based instructional program for English learners. Drawing from a recent ethnographic study and student achievement data, we examine the impact of structured English immersion programs on English learners in Arizona thus far, beginning with achievement outcomes.

Conclusions/Recommendations: There is no research basis for the Court’s statement the SEI is “significantly more effective;” at best SEI is no better or no worse than other instructional strategies, particularly bilingual instruction, when they are both well implemented. However, SEI as implemented in Arizona carries serious negative consequences for EL students stemming from the excessive amount of time dedicated to a sole focus on English instruction, the de-emphasis on grade level academic curriculum, the discrete skills approach it employs, and the segregation of EL students from mainstream peers. Moreover, the paper argues that there are, in fact, strategies that can ameliorate these problems as well as provide an additive, rather than a subtractive, educational experience for English learner and mainstream students alike.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 9, 2012, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16589, Date Accessed: 8/8/2020 8:14:15 PM

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About the Author
  • Mary Martinez-Wenzl
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    MARY MARTINEZ-WENZL is a Ph.D student in the Division of Urban Schooling within the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She works for the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles and the RAND Corporation. She conducted research related to college readiness for the Educational Policy Improvement Center, coordinated recruitment for the Latino Research Team at the Oregon Social Learning Center, and was awarded a Fulbright for graduate study and research at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Her research interests include school engagement, college preparation and access among newcomer immigrant students, community colleges, and binational educational partnerships. She received a B.A. in Public Policy/International Studies and an M.P.A. from the University of Oregon.
  • Karla Perez
    University of California, Los Angeles
    KARLA C. PÉREZ is a Ph.D student in the Division of Urban Schooling within the Graduate School of Education and Informational Studies at UCLA. Currently, she works as a research consultant for Cell Ed, a non-profit launching a literacy program in Spanish via cell phone. Her research interests include adult literacy, language learning, and culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogies. Before entering graduate school, she was a K-6 teacher in ELL classrooms and high school Spanish Teacher. She received a B.A. in Latin American Studies from Pomona College and a M.A. from University of California at San Diego.
  • Patricia Gándara
    University of California, Los Angeles
    PATRICIA GÁNDARA is Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. She has written or edited six books and more than 100 articles and reports on educational equity for racial and linguistic minority students, school reform, access to higher education, the education of Latino students, and language policy. Her two most recent books are The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies (Harvard University Press, 2009) and Forbidden Language: English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Gándara was recently named to President Obama's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association and recipient of its Presidential Citation at the 2011 AERA annual conference.
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