Arizonas teachers will not be the fall guy in English-learning failures
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 4, 2007

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association

Arizona has been making the wrong decisions about English-language learning for a decade, and our students are beginning to pay the price.

Teachers across the state have been calling for increased investment in public schools for years, and our state Legislature, superintendent of public instruction and governor have let them down. Not just teachers, but students, parents and the communities of Arizona.

The article on Page A1 Friday, "State faults teachers of English learners,"
is misleading and focuses on the easiest target: those closest to the classroom.

Arizona's teachers are well-educated and committed professionals and are asked to do the impossible.

Arizona is $2 billion behind the national average in its investment in education. This lack of investment has led to oversized classes, overworked teachers and underserved students.

Teachers are to blame? No, the legacy of poor decisions made by our elected leaders is to blame, and we must stand up and take responsibility for our children.

It's a shame that The Arizona Republic chose to present one narrow and sensationalized look at a complex issue and didn't bother to include a single statement from a practicing teacher.

Arizona must decide what its expectations are for English-language learners and, indeed, for all students. The state must be deliberate about its actions to resolve these issues and fund programs to meet the results its desires in the classrooms and quit blaming teachers for the shortcomings of a system.

The Arizona Republic should do more than point an uninformed finger at teachers and start investigating why the Arizona Department of Education is singling out a small group of teachers rather than supporting an investment that will deliver quality education for every child.

At 49th in per-pupil funding, Arizona's underinvestment in schools is on a collision course with high expectations and our rank as the fastest-growing state in the country for a K-12 population. Nowhere is this denial of reality more noticeable than in serving the needs of English-learning students.

It is absolutely appropriate to expect teachers to be English-proficient, but Arizona suffers from a measurable shortage of people who are qualified and willing to teach.

Below-average salaries and increasingly difficult working conditions, as well as a large number of teachers eligible to retire, mean that Arizona must rethink how it invests in the needs and development of its teachers.

Serious questions deserve serious answers: What will it take for Arizona to meet its responsibilities to Arizona's children, parents and teachers?

The writer is president of the Arizona Education Association.