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Arizona weeding out teachers that can’t speak English correctly

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POSTED May 3, 2010 1:06 a.m.
Three cheers for Arizona.

No, it Is not for the infamous illegal immigration law that gives local police in Arizona the responsibility to verify immigration status if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person they have stopped for an infraction is  in this country illegally.

Instead it is for the Arizona Department of Education for grasping the meaning of a passage in the federal No Child Left Behind Act and actually enforcing the provision. In a nutshell, the federal law requires schools that accept federal funds must teach students who are learning to speak English be instructed by teachers who are fluent in English.

Arizona has told locals school districts that they must remove teachers whose spoken English is ungrammatical or heavily-accented from classes where students are still learning English.

Critics claim it is part of the anti-immigration sentiment they contend is sweeping Arizona. If you’re so inclined to jump on that bandwagon consider these statistics for a minute. The Arizona Department of Education indicates that 46 percent of the students in kindergarten and second grade in that state are English language learners. It drops to 24 percent in third through fifth grades, 16 percent in sixth through eighth grades, and 14 percent in high school. Overall, 150,000 of the 1.2 million students in Arizona public schools are learning to speak English.

Teachers who can’t pass the muster have two options - they can take classes to improve their English or, if there is a position available switch to a classroom where there are not English learners. If they can’t do one or the other then they’re history.

Arizona hired hundreds of teachers in the 1990s whose first language was Spanish as part of a bi-lingual program that the voters axed in 2000. The teachers had to then stop teaching in Spanish and do so in English. Many of those teachers, by the way, were recruited out of Latin America.

There is little doubt continuing to teach kids of immigrants in their parents’ native language is a detriment. California proved that when they dropped bi-lingual classes - again by voter edict. Within several years test scores and other performance measures showed a marked improvement in the grasp of all subjects by those who once learned in California schools in a non-English language.

English may not officially be this country’s “official” language but it is without a doubt the language of money.

Some may make a decent living without being versed in English in this country but most can’t. By providing a crutch in school you are only crippling English learners in terms of how far they can go pursing the dream of success that, in most cases, brought their families to this land.

It is true that competitive nations in the global economy teach a foreign language in their public schools. There is a big difference, though, between let’s say in Japan learning to speak English as opposed to going to school and learning everything in English whether it is math or science.

We are in danger of turning into a Tower of Babel in this country. Take the California Department of Motor Vehicles as an example.   They provide the driver’s test for licensing requirement in 32 different languages from Croatian to Tongan. Taxpayers even pay for interpreters.

Our economy can’t be nimble if we balkanize our nation into pockets of second, third, and fourth generation citizens who can’t speak the primary language.

Canada may have English and French but we openly encourage 45 times more languages. Los Angeles Unified School District has 92 different languages that are spoken as the primary tongue of a number of their students.

How can we afford to educate dealing with that many languages or even communicate with fellow citizens? California law requires ballots in each county to reflect “qualified” languages based on the size of populations that do not speak English. In Los Angeles, that means all ballots and election materials are printed in seven languages.

Arizona is doing the right thing.

Kids - especially at younger ages - pick up on what they hear. If the teacher can’t enunciate or use proper grammar how can you expect the student to do so?

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