When Scottsdale school board member Molly Holzer asked at Tuesday’s meeting whether any research showed a state-mandated English Language Learner program worked, teachers in the audience laughed.
And when Superintendent John Baracy said he was one of two people on a task force to vote against the model, the room burst into applause.
Despite philosophical opposition to the mandate, the Scottsdale Unified School District’s governing board approved the model 4-1 Tuesday night.
House Bill 2064, which was passed in 2006, requires school districts to adopt an English-language instruction model approved by the state’s English Language Learner task force.
Starting in the fall, classes of ELL students will spend four hours a day studying the language. Classes must spend prescribed amounts of time on topics like vocabulary and writing.
Students are expected to pass an English proficiency test at the end of one year.
The program will be paid for by existing desegregation funds, according to a district presentation. No additional state funds are expected for the program in the coming year.
SUSD has 1,777 ELL students this year.
The board had to approve the program to meet reporting requirements under state law, district staff said. If the district didn’t meet reporting requirements, they wouldn’t be eligible for funds that might be available in the future.
“It’s irresponsible for the state legislature to mandate for us a program that has not been proved by research,” said board member Dieter Schaefer. “This is an extremely ill-conceived and unthoughtful piece of legislation.”
Schaefer and other members pointed to studies and personal experience as they argued it takes longer than one year to learn a new language.
“I think it’s interesting to note that desegregation funding is used to segregate the students,” Schaefer added.
Board member Eric Meyer was concerned the plan could increase dropout rates, especially among high school students who wouldn’t have time to take other credits necessary to graduate as long as they were classified as ELL students.
Board president Karen Beckvar’s carefully worded motion stated the governing board was approving the model only for the purpose of meeting reporting requirements, but remained philosophically opposed to the legislature mandating how ELL students should be taught.
Despite that wording, Holzer said she couldn’t bring herself to approve it.
“At least we’ll have some split vote voicing our displeasure,” Beckvar said.