LINGUIST List 24.436

Thu Jan 24 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Arias & Faltis (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 24-Jan-2013
From: Keira Ballantyne <keiragwu.edu>
Subject: Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-1937.html

EDITORS: Arias, M. Beatriz; Faltis, ChristianTITLE: Implementing Educational Language Policy in ArizonaSUBTITLE: Legal, Historical and Current Practices in SEISERIES: Bilingual Education and BilingualismPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2012

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

SUMMARYIn the United States, English language education is federally mandated forchildren from minority language backgrounds, but the execution of theparticular language education program is the domain of the individual states.The particular program adopted by the state of Arizona, and required for allchildren who are unable to pass an English language proficiency test, is knownas Structured English Immersion, or SEI. The SEI model mandates four hours ofsegregated daily instruction in English phonology, morphology, syntax, andsemantics for students who are not yet proficient in English. This time istaken out of the regular school day when other students are learning coresubjects such as mathematics, science, and social studies. The state ofArizona furthermore mandates the content and time required for teacherpreparation programs in colleges and universities (see Arizona RevisedStatutes Title 15 Chapter 7 Article 3.1).

In this book, the authors argue that the execution of this instructionalprogram in Arizona is restrictive, oppressive, and inconsistent with theaccepted body of scientific and professional knowledge on second languageacquisition and education. “We believe that Arizona is ground zero for themost restrictive language policy in the country and this policy is having anegative social and educational impact on language minority students” (p.xxiii).

Terence Wiley’s foreword “From Restrictive SEI to Imagining Better” begins bysketching a brief history of the legal landscape of the educational ofminority language students in the United States. He traces the federal policyshift from an emphasis on bilingual education to a focus on English languageacquisition and situates the volume within Arizona’s current politicalcontext, which includes not only Proposition 203, the 2000 law which mandatesthe SEI program, but also prior court actions brought against the state’streatment of linguistic minority students, and broader anti-immigrantsentiments, such as those ensconced in Arizona SB 1070, which allows police todemand immigration documents during routine stops or arrests.

In their Introduction, Arias and Faltis situate themselves as teachereducators, and frame language policy as existing not only in the legislativeand political sphere, but also as being enacted in the daily practice andattitude of teachers and their interactions with their linguistic minoritystudents. They outline the tripartite structure of the volume: (i) Languageand Policy and Arizona; (ii) Implementing SEI in Arizona; (iii) ArizonaTeacher Preparation for SEI.

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

The heart of her chapter is a description of the SEI endorsement required ofall teachers in Arizona. Pre-service teachers require 90 hours of preparationacross two courses; in-service teachers (i.e. practitioners seeking therequired endorsement to maintain professional licensure requirements) require90 hours of professional development. The content of these courses is mandatedby the state, and the state additionally reviews and approves every syllabusacross the state.

She skewers this policy on two prongs. First, the mandated curriculum leavesno place for teachers in preparation to examine attitudes, beliefs, or thesociopolitical context in which language policies are implemented. Second, theintrusion of the state into the sphere of the university, in her view,severely restricts the ability of faculty to employ their professionalexperience and expertise to effectively educate the teaching corps.

A minor criticism is Arias’ use of the acronym LEP for “language educationpolicy.” In US federal law, LEP is used to designate “limited Englishproficient” students. Despite the fact that this is clearly contestedterminology which is argued to downplay the assets and proficiencies oflanguage minority children, employing the acronym for another phrase isunfortunately distracting in this context.

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

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

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

The SEI syllabus focuses on teaching grammatical structures and vocabulary.The authors review the research on child language acquisition, andparticularly the robust finding that children learn language most effectivelyin the contexts of social, interactional, and task-based instruction. Incontrast, “Arizona’s SEI promises dull, teacher-fronted lessons with theirtraditional diet of model sentences for repetition and manipulation indrill-like activities ... and restricted opportunities for creative studenttalk” (pp. 43-4).

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

Part 2: Implementing SEI in ArizonaMary Carol Combs traces a detailed history of the legislative and courtactions impacting EL education in Arizona from the onset of the Flores vs.Arizona Supreme Court case in 1992. She describes the political landscape thatled to the passage of Proposition 203 -- the so-called “English for theChildren” ballot initiative financed by Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneurwho has successfully campaigned for similar legislation in California andMassachusetts (and unsuccessfully in Oregon in 2008). The court’s rulings inFlores vs. Arizona and the Arizona legislature’s subsequent response areanalyzed, and Combs unpacks the way in which the particulars of thesedecisions led to the implementation of SEI.

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

“... if students are expected to describe items in the classroom, they needfirst 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 differenttypes of works in proper grammatical order.”

Combs’ detailed history is wrapped in a historiographical analysis of the roleof the state in creating truth -- by instantiating the elements of the SEIprogram which run contrary to the research findings, the state has effectivelypromulgated its own version of the facts and realities of English languageeducation and acquisition.

Wayne Wright and Koyin Sung’s chapter shifts the focus from policyimplementation to classroom reality. They present the results of a survey andcase study assessing teachers’ attitudes toward SEI and the implementation ofSEI lessons in the classroom. Survey data found that teachers generally weresupportive of bilingualism, felt that Proposition 203 was too restrictive, andthat a plurality of teachers felt SEI was less effective than bilingualeducation. Alarmingly, few of the teachers surveyed were able to accuratelydefine structured English immersion. A total of 83% of survey participantsreported that their students were not in fact receiving ESL instruction, andconversely, 80% of teachers reported that the instruction for third graderswas driven by an emphasis on high-stakes testing (note that it appears thatthe studies referred to in this chapter were conducted prior to the mandatedfour instructional hours on English language development -- however this isnot made explicit).

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

The final chapter in this section is Stephen Krashen, Jeff MacSwan and KellieRolstad’s analysis of the ELL Task Force’s “Research Summary and Bibliographyfor Structured English Immersion Programs.” The analysis refutes the summarypoint by point. The authors dispute the claim of insufficient empiricalresearch on the effectiveness of program types for EL students, and point to ameta-analysis, a report by the Institute of Education Sciences, a report bythe National Literacy Panel and an Arizona-specific report, none of whichfound any advantage to SEI, and most of which showed that bilingual approacheswere more advantageous. They argue that the Time-on-Task assumptions of theTask Force (see discussion of Combs’ chapter, above) erroneously conflatelanguage as object with language as medium. Research on the order ofacquisition of forms is argued by the Task Force to imply that instructionshould focus on these forms in their acquired order; the authors of thecurrent piece point out that in fact rich linguistic input will allow learnersto acquire the forms according their internal acquisitional timetable. Theyexamine the research reviewed to support the contention that ELs should betaught 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 encompassthe entirety of the knowledge required to be proficient in English, absent anymention of pragmatic or general (world knowledge based) comprehension skills.

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

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

The content of the trainings is analyzed according to whether it reproducesthe “majoritarian” state-sponsored ideologies surrounding language oralternately whether it nurtures and supports counter-narratives. Four aspectsof the training courses are assessed. Interviewees at all types ofinstitutions noted that they followed the state-mandated curricular frameworkfor instructing teachers in SEI, although university personnel were morelikely to note points of resistance in their syllabus. Universities anddistricts were more likely to express support for bilingualism versus theEnglish-only majoritarian narrative. Community colleges and universitiesapproached professional development by encouraging participants to engage withmaterial, think critically, and construct their own knowledge; universitiesand districts tended to include multiple sources of methods for implementingsheltered instruction. In generally, universities were more prone to providingcounter-narratives, and for-profits were the least so.

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

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

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

Large majorities of survey respondents expressed that they felt that they hada strong understanding of EL students and that they were well prepared to workwith this population. The authors point out that despite these teachers’strong feelings of preparedness, there are omissions in the state-mandatedcurriculum. They draw three key implications from their research: that teacherpreparation courses should draw explicit attention to the language policycontext in which they are situated; that teacher educators should raise thecritical consciousness of their students; and that they should encourageresistance to the forces of inertia that accrue when restrictive languagepolicies are put into place.

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

Survey results consist of open-ended answers which Olson codes manuallyaccording to patterns of “belief statements.” She polls participants on theirreasons for wanting to become teachers and their views on the purpose ofeducation and finds that more than 90% of the statements returned indicatethat education is intended to create socialized and productive citizens.Almost 60% of participants believed that the best way to teach EL students wasvia English-only models, while close to 30% believed they should be providedwith native language instruction. A similar number expressed that they did notwant 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’spopulation, it is unlikely that any teacher graduating from a preserviceprogram will not have EL students in a future classroom and that it isproblematic that almost 60% of incoming teacher preparation candidatesexplicitly do not want to teach these children. On a more hopeful note, inunpacking the responses it becomes clear that these future teachers areconcerned that they will not have the suite of skills necessary -- apotentially fixable problem. Olson ends by advocating for “real-lifeopportunities in urban schools to build empathy, compassion and understanding”where teacher candidates can truly get to know EL students and develop anappreciation of ways in which they and their students are situated within asocio-political order.

EVALUATIONThe combination of scholarly and advocacy work that the authors set out toachieve can be challenging. In simultaneously advocating for change in thesphere of public policy while also maintaining an academic voice and engagingwith past theoretical discussions within one’s discipline, authors risk aimingfor two distinct (although overlapping) audiences and hitting none. Althoughthe authors in this book manage to navigate this tension skillfully, there arepoints at which the book might be more accessible to lay policymakers andadvocates. Specifically, the introductory material might benefit from anexplicit definition of SEI and of the requirements of Arizona law. Theparticulars of the law and of the Arizona Department of Education’sinterpretation emerge piecemeal across the chapters. A second and relatedchallenge 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 perhapsthe 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 policywithin the political context of other anti-immigrant initiatives such asArizona SB 1070 (allowing for police to examine immigration papers), thestate’s moves against ethnic studies programs, most prominently with TucsonUnified School District, and the “Teacher’s English Fluency Initiative” whichsought to remove teachers whose English was “heavily accented orungrammatical.” While these are mentioned in Wiley’s foreword, the volume doesnot explicitly address how these initiatives directly affect teaching andlearning, teacher preparation, or other aspects of the educational experienceof EL students.

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWERKeira Ballantyne is an educational linguist in the Graduate School ofEducation and Human Development at the George Washington University. She hasworked on a broad range of topics in English learner education andparticularly on professional development and early childhood education forthis population.

Page Updated: 24-Jan-2013