[lg policy] book review: Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 25 15:40:34 UTC 2013

Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1937.html

EDITORS: Arias, M. Beatriz; Faltis, Christian

Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona: Legal, Historical
and Current Practices in SEI

SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Keira Gebbie Ballantyne, National Clearinghouse for English
Language Acquisition

In the United States, English language education is federally mandated for
children from minority language backgrounds, but the execution of the
particular language education program is the domain of the individual states.
The particular program adopted by the state of Arizona, and required for all
children who are unable to pass an English language proficiency test, is known
as Structured English Immersion, or SEI. The SEI model mandates four hours of
segregated daily instruction in English phonology, morphology, syntax, and
semantics for students who are not yet proficient in English. This time is
taken out of the regular school day when other students are learning core
subjects such as mathematics, science, and social studies. The state of
Arizona furthermore mandates the content and time required for teacher
preparation programs in colleges and universities (see Arizona Revised
Statutes Title 15 Chapter 7 Article 3.1).

In this book, the authors argue that the execution of this instructional
program in Arizona is restrictive, oppressive, and inconsistent with the
accepted body of scientific and professional knowledge on second language
acquisition and education. “We believe that Arizona is ground zero for the
most restrictive language policy in the country and this policy is having a
negative social and educational impact on language minority students” (p.

Terence Wiley’s foreword “From Restrictive SEI to Imagining Better” begins by
sketching a brief history of the legal landscape of the educational of
minority language students in the United States. He traces the federal policy
shift from an emphasis on bilingual education to a focus on English language
acquisition and situates the volume within Arizona’s current political
context, which includes not only Proposition 203, the 2000 law which mandates
the SEI program, but also prior court actions brought against the state’s
treatment of linguistic minority students, and broader anti-immigrant
sentiments, such as those ensconced in Arizona SB 1070, which allows police to
demand immigration documents during routine stops or arrests.

In their Introduction, Arias and Faltis situate themselves as teacher
educators, and frame language policy as existing not only in the legislative
and political sphere, but also as being enacted in the daily practice and
attitude of teachers and their interactions with their linguistic minority
students. They outline the tripartite structure of the volume: (i) Language
and Policy and Arizona; (ii) Implementing SEI in Arizona; (iii) Arizona
Teacher Preparation for SEI.

Part 1: Language and Policy in Arizona
In the opening chapter of this section M. Beatriz Arias positions Arizona’s
policies on teacher education at the center of her enquiry. She reminds us
that the curricula that teachers are exposed to as part of their pre-service
education shapes their professional attitudes. Arizona’s language education
policy is analyzed as “restrictive” -- just shy of “repressive”, and
furthermore as the most restrictive in the United States. Arias argues
teachers are the frontline of language policy implementation but that this
role is often underidentified in teacher education programs and hence teachers
may simply reproduce unexamined linguistic prejudices.

The heart of her chapter is a description of the SEI endorsement required of
all teachers in Arizona. Pre-service teachers require 90 hours of preparation
across two courses; in-service teachers (i.e. practitioners seeking the
required endorsement to maintain professional licensure requirements) require
90 hours of professional development. The content of these courses is mandated
by the state, and the state additionally reviews and approves every syllabus
across the state.

She skewers this policy on two prongs. First, the mandated curriculum leaves
no place for teachers in preparation to examine attitudes, beliefs, or the
sociopolitical context in which language policies are implemented. Second, the
intrusion of the state into the sphere of the university, in her view,
severely restricts the ability of faculty to employ their professional
experience and expertise to effectively educate the teaching corps.

A minor criticism is Arias’ use of the acronym LEP for “language education
policy.” In US federal law, LEP is used to designate “limited English
proficient” students. Despite the fact that this is clearly contested
terminology which is argued to downplay the assets and proficiencies of
language minority children, employing the acronym for another phrase is
unfortunately distracting in this context.

In Chapter 2, “Research-based Reform in Arizona: Whose Evidence Counts for
Applying the Castañeda Test to Structured English Immersion Models?” the
volume’s editors explore the politicized process of the English language
learner (ELL) Task Force committee which designed the SEI program. In
particular, they address whether or not the expertise considered by the state
meets the first prong of the Castañeda requirement that programs be based on
“sound educational theory that is supported by qualified experts.” The authors
critique the body of research used by the ELL Task Force on four counts.
First, the research relied heavily on evidence from Canadian immersion
programs -- which, unlike Arizona’s SEI policy, aim toward bilingual and
biliterate students and support both of the students’ languages. The task
force assumed a timeline of a single year for students to become fluent in
English, which is at odds with general estimates from the research literature
of three to seven years. Research on the positive effects of home language
literacy was not taken into consideration. Finally the negative effects of the
segregation of English learner (EL) students and the deleterious effect of
four hours daily of “English phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics,” at
the expense of mathematics, science and social studies were not at all
considered by the Task Force.

The authors argue that because the courts have historically adopted too low of
a standard for the admission of experts on EL education, the ELL Task Force
was able to rely on “expert” input from individuals who did not in fact
possess sufficient, if any, expertise. They point to federal rules for the
admission of expert testimony, as well as legal precedent, and advocate for
more stringent standards on the admission of evidence by experts in order to
satisfy the Castañeda test.

Michael Long and H.D. Adamson, in Chapter 3, further explore the SEI program
created by the Task Force by comparing the syllabus with the current state of
the research on child second language acquisition. They identify two major
faults -- first, it fails to take into account research which shows that
language is acquired more readily as a medium of communication than as an
object of study, and second, it does not prepare children with the academic
language necessary for them to succeed in learning content areas such as
mathematics, science, and social studies.

The SEI syllabus focuses on teaching grammatical structures and vocabulary.
The authors review the research on child language acquisition, and
particularly the robust finding that children learn language most effectively
in the contexts of social, interactional, and task-based instruction. In
contrast, “Arizona’s SEI promises dull, teacher-fronted lessons with their
traditional diet of model sentences for repetition and manipulation in
drill-like activities ... and restricted opportunities for creative student
talk” (pp. 43-4).

In their section on academic language, the authors remind us that not only do
EL students need to be taught academic language to access the content areas,
but that also their ability to draw on an increasing depth of background
knowledge in a content area will assist them in learning the language of that
field. The lack of content-based linguistic instruction in the SEI program
means that children are unlikely to emerge from this program on track with
their age peers who are fluent in English, and hence unlikely to continue to
academic success after a single year in the SEI program.

Part 2: Implementing SEI in Arizona
Mary Carol Combs traces a detailed history of the legislative and court
actions impacting EL education in Arizona from the onset of the Flores vs.
Arizona Supreme Court case in 1992. She describes the political landscape that
led to the passage of Proposition 203 -- the so-called “English for the
Children” ballot initiative financed by Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur
who has successfully campaigned for similar legislation in California and
Massachusetts (and unsuccessfully in Oregon in 2008). The court’s rulings in
Flores vs. Arizona and the Arizona legislature’s subsequent response are
analyzed, and Combs unpacks the way in which the particulars of these
decisions led to the implementation of SEI.

She goes on to address the simplistic “time-on-task” assumptions of the ELL
Task Force, laying out in detail the stringent minute-by-minute mandates for
components of English language instruction provided by the Task Force. She
describes the “Discrete Skills Inventory” approach to language acquisition as
implemented by the Task Force (a fairly concrete example of Long and Adamson’s
characterization of the instructional approach as “language as object”):

“... if students are expected to describe items in the classroom, they need
first to be taught certain parts of speech such as nouns, adjectives, verbs,
as well as how to conjugate verbs, and then learn how to assemble different
types of works in proper grammatical order.”

Combs’ detailed history is wrapped in a historiographical analysis of the role
of the state in creating truth -- by instantiating the elements of the SEI
program which run contrary to the research findings, the state has effectively
promulgated its own version of the facts and realities of English language
education and acquisition.

Wayne Wright and Koyin Sung’s chapter shifts the focus from policy
implementation to classroom reality. They present the results of a survey and
case study assessing teachers’ attitudes toward SEI and the implementation of
SEI lessons in the classroom. Survey data found that teachers generally were
supportive of bilingualism, felt that Proposition 203 was too restrictive, and
that a plurality of teachers felt SEI was less effective than bilingual
education. Alarmingly, few of the teachers surveyed were able to accurately
define structured English immersion. A total of 83% of survey participants
reported that their students were not in fact receiving ESL instruction, and
conversely, 80% of teachers reported that the instruction for third graders
was driven by an emphasis on high-stakes testing (note that it appears that
the studies referred to in this chapter were conducted prior to the mandated
four instructional hours on English language development -- however this is
not made explicit).

The case study compares two classrooms -- one in a majority Hispanic, less
wealthy, and “low-performing” school with an experienced teacher and the other
in a “performing” school in a more affluent community and with a first-year
teacher. The authors used observation in conjunction with the Sheltered
Instruction Observational Protocol (SIOP), a quantitative rubric to assess the
quality of teaching for EL students. They found that on both measures, the
more experienced teacher provided higher quality instruction, but that the
quality of instruction still was not sufficient to meet the educational needs
of the students.

The final chapter in this section is Stephen Krashen, Jeff MacSwan and Kellie
Rolstad’s analysis of the ELL Task Force’s “Research Summary and Bibliography
for Structured English Immersion Programs.” The analysis refutes the summary
point by point. The authors dispute the claim of insufficient empirical
research on the effectiveness of program types for EL students, and point to a
meta-analysis, a report by the Institute of Education Sciences, a report by
the National Literacy Panel and an Arizona-specific report, none of which
found any advantage to SEI, and most of which showed that bilingual approaches
were more advantageous. They argue that the Time-on-Task assumptions of the
Task Force (see discussion of Combs’ chapter, above) erroneously conflate
language as object with language as medium. Research on the order of
acquisition of forms is argued by the Task Force to imply that instruction
should focus on these forms in their acquired order; the authors of the
current piece point out that in fact rich linguistic input will allow learners
to acquire the forms according their internal acquisitional timetable. They
examine the research reviewed to support the contention that ELs should be
taught discrete language skills (morphology, syntax, phonology, vocabulary)
and conclude that (i) the research does not support this conclusion and (ii)
the research clearly indicates that these four discrete areas do not encompass
the entirety of the knowledge required to be proficient in English, absent any
mention of pragmatic or general (world knowledge based) comprehension skills.

It is not clear whether this piece was contemporaneous with the 2006 ELL Task
Force Research Summary and reprinted in the current volume -- Combs’ history
appears to indicate that this is the case -- and if so, an explicit note to
this effect would be useful to the reader.

Part 3: Arizona Teacher Preparation for SEI
Sarah Catherine K. Moore examines the effect to which the state-mandated
training in SEI for all teachers replicates the language ideologies of the
state. She finds that the type of institution which delivers the training has
an effect, analyzing training provided to teachers via four conduits:
universities, community colleges, school districts, and for-profit

The content of the trainings is analyzed according to whether it reproduces
the “majoritarian” state-sponsored ideologies surrounding language or
alternately whether it nurtures and supports counter-narratives. Four aspects
of the training courses are assessed. Interviewees at all types of
institutions noted that they followed the state-mandated curricular framework
for instructing teachers in SEI, although university personnel were more
likely to note points of resistance in their syllabus. Universities and
districts were more likely to express support for bilingualism versus the
English-only majoritarian narrative. Community colleges and universities
approached professional development by encouraging participants to engage with
material, think critically, and construct their own knowledge; universities
and districts tended to include multiple sources of methods for implementing
sheltered instruction. In generally, universities were more prone to providing
counter-narratives, and for-profits were the least so.

Despite the potential sites of resistance, the ability of the state to provide
what Moore characterizes as “symbolic artifacts” -- viz. policy mandates,
regulations and threats against non-compliance -- has the effect of generally
enforcing the replication of the state-sponsored language ideology.

The final pair of papers in this volume provide direct analyses of the
attitudes and beliefs of the teachers charged with implementing SEI in the

Nancy Murri, Amy Markos and Alexandria Estrella-Silva report on the results of
a survey designed to elicit from pre-service teachers the degree to which the
state-mandated course of study on SEI left them feeling prepared to teach EL
students. The authors first review the literature on recommendations for
course content for teachers of EL students, which include attention to second
language acquisition, appropriate materials and strategies for EL students,
appropriate (and inappropriate) assessments and accommodations, and
examination of students’ background knowledge and family and community
contexts. They note that within the first half of the 90 hours of mandated
course time on SEI, required (at the time of writing) for the initial stage of
teacher licensure, only one hour is set aside for instruction in second
language acquisition processes.

Large majorities of survey respondents expressed that they felt that they had
a strong understanding of EL students and that they were well prepared to work
with this population. The authors point out that despite these teachers’
strong feelings of preparedness, there are omissions in the state-mandated
curriculum. They draw three key implications from their research: that teacher
preparation courses should draw explicit attention to the language policy
context in which they are situated; that teacher educators should raise the
critical consciousness of their students; and that they should encourage
resistance to the forces of inertia that accrue when restrictive language
policies are put into place.

Kate Olson surveys 177 pre-service teachers in the first week of their program
of study. Her aim is to uncover how meta-narratives surrounding the English
learner population, as they are reproduced via media, the state, and other
channels, have implications for the attitudes and beliefs of those about to
enter the teaching corps.

Survey results consist of open-ended answers which Olson codes manually
according to patterns of “belief statements.” She polls participants on their
reasons for wanting to become teachers and their views on the purpose of
education and finds that more than 90% of the statements returned indicate
that education is intended to create socialized and productive citizens.
Almost 60% of participants believed that the best way to teach EL students was
via English-only models, while close to 30% believed they should be provided
with native language instruction. A similar number expressed that they did not
want to teach EL students (58%) and that they did want to teach EL students
(33%). Olson points out that, given the increasing diversity of Arizona’s
population, it is unlikely that any teacher graduating from a preservice
program will not have EL students in a future classroom and that it is
problematic that almost 60% of incoming teacher preparation candidates
explicitly do not want to teach these children. On a more hopeful note, in
unpacking the responses it becomes clear that these future teachers are
concerned that they will not have the suite of skills necessary -- a
potentially fixable problem. Olson ends by advocating for “real-life
opportunities in urban schools to build empathy, compassion and understanding”
where teacher candidates can truly get to know EL students and develop an
appreciation of ways in which they and their students are situated within a
socio-political order.

The combination of scholarly and advocacy work that the authors set out to
achieve can be challenging. In simultaneously advocating for change in the
sphere of public policy while also maintaining an academic voice and engaging
with past theoretical discussions within one’s discipline, authors risk aiming
for two distinct (although overlapping) audiences and hitting none. Although
the authors in this book manage to navigate this tension skillfully, there are
points at which the book might be more accessible to lay policymakers and
advocates. Specifically, the introductory material might benefit from an
explicit definition of SEI and of the requirements of Arizona law. The
particulars of the law and of the Arizona Department of Education’s
interpretation emerge piecemeal across the chapters. A second and related
challenge is the order of papers in such a volume -- Mary Carol Combs’
historical account, for instance, might have been an effective lead-off piece.
The order of papers as described in the foreword, and their chapter numbers,
moreover, does not match their order in the volume, indicating that perhaps
the editors also struggled with this issue.

Finally -- and again for the reader who is new to Arizona language policy --
it would have been useful to see a contextualization of the language policy
within the political context of other anti-immigrant initiatives such as
Arizona SB 1070 (allowing for police to examine immigration papers), the
state’s moves against ethnic studies programs, most prominently with Tucson
Unified School District, and the “Teacher’s English Fluency Initiative” which
sought to remove teachers whose English was “heavily accented or
ungrammatical.” While these are mentioned in Wiley’s foreword, the volume does
not explicitly address how these initiatives directly affect teaching and
learning, teacher preparation, or other aspects of the educational experience
of EL students.

One could of course just as easily argue that the merits and faults of
programs not directly related to language policy ought not fall under the
professional scope of educational linguists and teacher educators. Indeed what
is most impressive about the book is the way in which it passionately
advocates by appealing to sound research and professional knowledge that falls
squarely within the purview of the authors’ expertise. Despite any minor
faults, the volume is a welcome addition to the literature in the field of
equity and English learner education.

Keira Ballantyne is an educational linguist in the Graduate School of
Education and Human Development at the George Washington University. She has
worked on a broad range of topics in English learner education and
particularly on professional development and early childhood education for
this population.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal,
and to write directly to the original sender of any offensive message.
 A copy of this may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman,

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list