State faults teachers of English learners
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 31, 2007
 Pat Kossan



Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don't know the language, state officials say.

The kids are taught by teachers who don't know English grammar and can't pronounce English words correctly. Last year, for example, a Mesa teacher stood in front of a class of language learners and announced, "Sometimes, you are not gonna know some." A teacher in Phoenix's Creighton Elementary District asked her kids, "If you have problems, to who are you going to ask?" A Casa Grande Elementary District teacher asked her kids to "read me first how it was before."

Each year, the state evaluates a sampling of classrooms where kids are learning English. Last year, officials visited 32 districts and found similar problems at nine. Some teachers' English was so poor that even state officials strained to understand them. The state also found that students learning English at all ages were being taught by teachers who did not have appropriate training or materials. At a dozen districts, evaluators found teachers who ignored state law and taught in Spanish.
Each year, fewer kids who are still learning English pass the reading, writing and math AIMS test.

For the past five years, state monitors have evaluated a sampling of language classes to help find out why.

Here are some of the problems they found inside the classrooms at the 32 districts they visited for one to three days last year.

Teachers speak poor English. At nine districts, some teachers did not know correct English grammar or pronunciation. In one classroom, the teacher's English was "labored and arduous." Other teachers were just difficult to understand. Some teachers pronounced "levels" as "lebels" and "much" as "mush."

At one school in Humboldt Unified, a teacher asked, "How do we call it in English?" Another teacher in Marana Unified told students, "You need to make the story very interested to the teacher." A teacher at Phoenix's Isaac Elementary explained, "My older brother always put the rules."

Teachers still use Spanish in the classroom. Twelve districts had to be reminded that Arizona law requires teachers to use only English in the classroom and bans all texts and materials in any language but English. Monitors found teachers who used too much Spanish translation to help students and used storybooks, textbooks, posters and bulletin boards that were written in Spanish.

State officials allow Spanish-language books only in school libraries.

At one Isaac Elementary school, children could not answer simple questions in English. Students told the monitors that much of their instruction was in Spanish. In a class at Humboldt Unified, a teacher reviewed a list of vocabulary words by reciting them in English and having the students respond in Spanish. Some schools provided bilingual education to children whose parents did not fill out state-required waiver forms or did not fill them out properly.

Some schools shortchange language learners. Some schools hadn't bothered to apply for tutoring grants available to help language learners, and many teachers did not have the appropriate training to teach English as a new language. One high-school teacher had only elementary-school credentials, while some had none at all.

In a classroom in Phoenix's Cartwright Elementary District, kids still in the early stages of learning English "were found sitting, comprehending very little, and receiving almost no attention."

Deer Valley Unified provided minimal materials and teaching materials for language learners compared to other kids; it also offered little academic guidance to high-school students learning English.

At Maricopa Unified, some language learners were placed in regular classrooms with up to 29 students. The hour of English instruction for these students was provided by a teacher's aide at the back of the class.

Arizona is revamping the way schools teach kids English. Starting this year, schools must begin putting language learners into four hours of classes each day where these students will learn English grammar, phonetics, writing and reading.

The state recently rolled out a new program to help administrators understand the changes and train teachers in a new prescriptive curriculum they will be expected to follow.

Reach the reporter at pat