Blog: Latino Ed Beat

In Arizona, “Much” Ado About English Fluency of ELL Teachers

Faced with the prospect of  a civil rights lawsuit, the state of Arizona will no longer monitor the English fluency of ELL teachers and will now leave that monitoring to districts and charter schools. According to the Arizona Republic, a civil rights complaint filed last year claimed that teachers with accents were being reassigned.

The state claimed that fluency monitoring was required under the No Child Left Behind Act. However, federal officials told Arizona the monitoring program could violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it discriminated against Latinos and non-English speakers.

Arizona’s top school official said state monitors will continue to advise districts to watch for teachers with faulty English pronunciation or grammar.

“Students should be in a class where teachers can articulate,” John Huppenthal, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, told the Arizona Republic.

The Arizona case provides fodder for some possible story topics:

  • Are Latino or immigrant teachers unfairly targeted or monitored because of their accents or the perception that they might have an accent? Do native English-speaking teachers with poor grammar or syntax skills face similar monitoring or consequences? In Arizona, monitors cited teachers who “pronounced ‘levels’ as ‘lebels’ and ‘much’ as ‘mush.’ Last year, federal officials found monitoring reports that documented teachers who pronounced ‘the’ as ‘da’ and ‘lives here’ as ‘leeves here’,” the newspaper reported. As anyone who has tried to learn a second language knows, accents are difficult to shed and having an accent alone does not denote lack of fluency in a language.
  • How are students affected when their teacher — especially an English as Second Language teacher — demonstrates lack of fluency in English? Does it impede the students’ learning or does it help to have a teacher who might speak their native language and can understand what it is like to learn a new language? Does your state or district have a similar monitoring procedure — and if so, what do they do when teachers are cited for lack of fluency? It would be interesting to look at the demographics of ELL teachers in your districts and break down the number of native English speakers.