The Complexities of Arizona’s Restrictive Language Policies

Later this month we are publishing Amy Heineke’s book Restrictive Language Policy in Practice which explores the complexities and intricacies of Arizona’s language policy in practice. In this post, Amy discusses the impact of these policies on English Language Learners.

Restrictive Language Policy in PracticeThink back to your experiences as a young person in school. What did you enjoy? With whom did you spend time? What challenges did you face? What pushed and prompted you to develop as an individual? How did those experiences influence who you are today?

Now consider this reality. After starting school, you are given a language proficiency test. Based on your score, you are placed in a separate classroom apart from your friends. While they read novels and conduct science experiments, you learn the discrete skills of the English language: one hour of grammar, one hour of vocabulary, one hour of reading, 30 minutes of writing, and 30 minutes of conversation. You listen, speak, read, and write in another language, but the message is clear: English is the priority – learn it, and learn it fast.

This is the educational experience for tens of thousands of English learners (ELs) in the state of Arizona. After Proposition 203 nearly eradicated bilingual education in favor of English-medium instruction for ELs in 2000, state policymakers and administrators further restricted language policy with the shift to the English Language Development (ELD) model. Implemented in schools in 2008, the policy required that students labeled as ELs (based on standardized tests of language proficiency) be separated from English-proficient peers and placed in ELD classrooms for four hours of skill-based English instruction.

The statewide implementation of ELD policy in practice has yielded various challenges for local educators working in classrooms, schools, districts, and communities. Lacking rigorous preparation or pedagogical support, teachers must maneuver complex classrooms with learners from a multitude of cultural and linguistic backgrounds with various abilities, strengths, and needs. Due to this complexity, leaders struggle to staff ELD classrooms, often resulting in a revolving door of underprepared teachers. Students see themselves as being in the “stupid class,” as they fall behind their peers in math, science, and social studies in the push for English proficiency.

Whether a first-year teacher or an administrator with decades of experience, local educators struggle with how to ameliorate this complex situation. Policymakers and state administrators believe in the ELD model, and as such provide staunch compliance measures to ensure rigid implementation of instructional mandates. As local educators and other stakeholders encounter the on-the-ground repercussions in their daily work, they make decisions to maneuver policy in practice to effectively reach and teach ELs.

This book analyzes the complexities of restrictive language policy in practice. Conducted five years after the shift to ELD instruction, this qualitative study investigates how Arizona teachers, school and district leaders, university teacher educators, state administrators and legislators, and community leaders engage in daily practice to navigate the most restrictive language policy mandates in the United States. Overall, the book demonstrates that even in the most restrictive policy settings, educators and other stakeholders have the agency and ability to impact how policy plays out in practice and influence the education of ELs, so that all learners may one day fondly recall their schooling experiences.

Dr. Amy J. Heineke, Associate Professor of Education, Loyola University Chicago, School of Education
Email: aheineke@luc.edu
Twitter: @DrAJHeineke
Linkedin: amyheineke

arizona-booksIf you would like more information about this title, please contact Amy using the contact details above or see our website.

You might also be interested in a couple of our other titles: Language Policy Processes and Consequences edited by Sarah Catherine K. Moore and Implementing Educational Language Policy in Arizona edited by M. Beatriz Arias and Christian Faltis.

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