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Segregating Arizona’s English Learners: A Return to the "Mexican Room"?

by Patricia Gándara & Gary Orfield - 2012

Background:This study grew out of a recent Supreme Court case known as Horne v Flores. The case began in 1992 in Nogales, Arizona when a 4th grade English learner (EL), Miriam Flores, sued the district and the state for failing to provide her (and other EL students) with an appropriate education as guaranteed by the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974. After years of failing to respond to federal court orders, in 2007 Arizona adopted, and in 2008 implemented, a 4 hour English language development course that (1) segregates EL students from their English speaking peers; (2) denies them access to the core curriculum; and (3) groups them with students who also lack knowledge of English so that the EL students have no opportunity to interact with English speaking students. The Supreme Court intervened in June 2009 with a decision that largely absolved the state from any requirement that they fund programs for EL students in a manner that bore “a rational relationship to the students’ needs.” But, the Court did remand the case back to federal court to investigate whether the program in place was, indeed, meeting the needs of the EL students.

Arizona has a history of serious school segregation that has harmed English language learners and other students. In l950 the state still had a law mandating racial segregation of students and even when the Supreme Court ruled Southern segregation unconstitutional in l954, Arizona was one of only a handful of states where state law still permitted school districts to openly segregate their students. Both Latino and black students went to court to try to reverse segregation, winning victories in state and federal courts in the l950s but this did not resolve the issues, which are still being litigated in Arizona sixty years later in 2011.

Purpose: At the time of the remand in 2009, there was no empirical research on the impact of the four-hour English Language Development (ELD) program, nor had there been any legal challenge to a program that both segregated EL students from their English speaking peers for the entire day in many cases, and denied the students access to the regular curriculum, which is guaranteed by an earlier Supreme Court decision, Lau v Nichols, in 1974. This study draws upon both new empirical research on this topic as well as the extant literature on instruction of English learners and the effects of segregation on minority students to fill this void. The study reported here is one of nine studies commissioned by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA whose intent was to determine how students are taught and how they learn in the four hour program, and to what extent the program operates meets the requirement of federal anti-discrimination laws.

Findings: Based on an exhaustive review of the extant research on segregation and linguistic isolation, this study finds that the excessive segregation of Arizona’s Latino and EL students is most probably harmful to their achievement and social and emotional development. It exacerbates the existing segregation of these students, not just by school, but by classroom as well, and as other studies recently conducted in Arizona have shown, it is stigmatizing, marginalizing, and putting these students at high risk for school failure and drop out. Moreover, unlike what the Arizona Department of Education has contended, it is not moving the great majority of these students toward full English proficiency within one year, thus potentially exposing them to years of this unnecessary segregation and lack of access to the regular curriculum, pushing them further and further behind academically. Many districts in Arizona simply have not implemented the state required program and some have requested to be waived from the four-hour block for high school students “on track to graduate” because the program makes it nearly impossible for most secondary EL schools to graduate from high school with their peers.

This study also finds that many research-based alternatives exist to the present program model being provided by Arizona schools, and some of these are described in the paper. Included here are discussions of sheltered English, bilingual, and dual language programs. Two-way dual language programs are especially highlighted as they have as a clear objective the integration of EL students with English speakers.

Research Design: Research review and analysis.

Conclusions: This review of new and extant research on linguistic isolation, the effects of segregation of English learners, and the content and practices observed in the Arizona 4 hour ELD model concludes that Arizona’s program for its EL students places them at risk of school failure, delayed graduation, and negative academic self-concepts. The program also challenges the rights established in Lau v Nichols (1974), raising serious questions about its constitutionality. The authors conclude that Arizona should seek more effective program models to educate its EL students.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 9, 2012, p. 1-27
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16600, Date Accessed: 8/13/2020 11:14:13 PM

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About the Author
  • Patricia Gándara
    University of California, Los Angeles
    PATRICIA GÁNDARA is Professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Co-Director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. She is the author of The Latino Education Crisis (with Frances Contreras), Harvard University Press, 2009 and the editor of Forbidden Language: English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies (with Megan Hopkins), Teachers College Press, 2010. She is also the coordinator of the Arizona Educational Equity Project.
  • Gary Orfield
    University of California, Los Angeles
    GARY ORFIELD is Professor of Education, Law, Political Science, and Urban Planning at UCLA. Cofounder and co-director of the Civil Rights Project, first at Harvard and then at UCLA. His recent work focuses on metropolitan inequality, the dropout problem, school desegregation and college opportunity. He is a member of the National Academy of Education.
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