Arizona legislation that focuses on student education impacts the state’s future workforce and sets a tone for what’s to come with the business community.
Quickly into the legislative session, Governor Doug Ducey signed S.B. 1014, which addresses English Language Learner (ELL) students.
State Senator Paul Boyer (R-LD 20), who is also a teacher, sponsored the bill in an effort to allow ELL students to spend more time with their English-speaking peers in the classroom. It also encourages the school to find its best method rather than requiring a one-size-fits-all approach.
The measure decreases the four-hour per day state mandate of ELL-based instruction- and separation from peers- to two hours.
“These kids are smart kids, they just don’t speak the language. And, the fact that they’re isolated from their peers- I mean we all learned English by being around native speakers. That’s natural,” Boyer said.
The more time ELL students spend in the regular classroom, the more time they have to engage with English-speaking peers and gain exposure to necessary K-12 content.
“You’ve got 85,000 kids in this program and it takes them on average seven years to be reclassified- something is not working. So, these kids are missing out on content. They’re missing out on history, science, math and the content that we all got when we were in K-12,” Boyer said.
He explained that many ELL students struggle in the school environment because they are isolated from their peers for four hours of instruction.
“What we were finding was instead of actually freeing students from monolingual non-English speakers, it was trapping them and being non-English speakers because their core subjects weren’t being taught. The English learning wasn’t happening,” Lawrence Robinson, Roosevelt School District Governing Board member said.
He added, “basically, we saw parents who were frustrated and didn’t know where to go to actually create a change. So, basically if you listen and observe you realize there might be a problem and parents are the first to see it.”
Robinson explained that when parents and families of students notice an issue, they bring it to the school district’s governing board. This allows the board to keep up-to-date on parents’ concerns.
Strengthening the ELL students’ English-speaking skills and K-12 education prepares them for future endeavors, such as postsecondary attainment and a successful career.
Robinson explained that the working-class communities, immigrant communities and non-English speaking monolingual communities have a large capacity for economic growth.
“When you grow an economy, you grow a workforce which is obviously crucial. You also grow a new customer base, you grow new connectivity and interaction for commerce,” Robinson said. “You grow the ability to speak, relate to and trade with the local communities where a lot of these monolingual, non-English speakers have one generation or one degree of separation.”
Preparing students in the classroom improves the likelihood of future success and financial independence.
“What people don’t think about is you grow the ability to get folks onto their own two feet and off of government assistance. This really allows for the government to get out of the way for folks to be able to sustain themselves with a skillset that’s really kind of crucial, which is to be able to communicate,” Robinson explained.
Boyer pointed out that many ELL students in Arizona are missing out on classroom content. And, when students don’t learn the K12 content, they are less likely to be able to perform the necessary functions of a job.
“If we have students that are bilingual, that’s a huge boom, that’s a huge benefit to the state because we’re a border state,” Boyer said. “I can’t tell you how many times where it would’ve been beneficial if I did speak Spanish or any other language.”
Decreasing the state mandate from four hours to two hours allows a focus on the importance of bilingualism, but also ensures ELL students are prepared for life after K-12.
“Allowing the actual school to figure out instead of the state coming from the top down saying a one-size-fits-all approach works for every single one of these 85,000 students from the state of Arizona regardless of the personal dynamics on their school campus, I mean it doesn’t respect teachers. As teachers, we know the needs of our students better than any bureaucrat in Phoenix does,” Boyer said.
Arizona shares a border with Mexico, allowing for a variety of unique workforce development, trade and other opportunities. Mastering languages in addition to English opens doors for individuals.
“You’ve got a world that’s increasingly, exponentially more interconnected and those places, people and communities that can speak to more of those global connectivity points are going to thrive and be ahead,” Robinson said.