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High Teacher Turnover In Arizona English Language Classrooms
An analysis of Arizona’s English Language Learning (ELL) program attributes high teacher turnover to its language policy and low teacher pay.
If students in Arizona don’t pass the language proficiency exam, they are enrolled in English Language Development (ELD) classes. These are four-hour prescriptive blocks focused solely on grammar, vocab, reading and writing in separate classrooms with different teachers.
The aim of the program is to bring students up to proficiency in a year or two so they can rejoin their peers in traditional classrooms. However, the most recent data available from the Arizona Department of Education shows in 2010, only 29 percent of ELL students progressed in their English proficiency.
“And this means they’re in these separate classrooms longer,” said Amy Heineke, associate professor of education at Loyola University Chicago. She authored the study examining Arizona’s English Language Learning program over the past five years. “So they’re falling behind their peers in other subject matters or having to take extra courses.”
Arizona implemented this program in 2008, and it stems from a ballot-initiative passed in 2000 that made it illegal for public schools to teach in a language other than English. At the time other states had this “Structured English Immersion” model as well.
However in 2017 California and Massachusetts repealed their English-only laws and implemented bilingual learning – leaving Arizona as the last state with this system.
Heineke said this model is part of the reason Arizona English Language classrooms see such high teacher turnover rates.
“They’re much more complex settings to teach in and quite frankly teachers just don’t want to teach in them,” she said. “And to fill that districts bring in teachers from across the country with little to no preparation particularly for English learners. Basically findings of the study is we have the least prepared teachers working with some of the highest need students."
In her study, Heineke examined five years of ELL data and spoke with school administrators at all levels.
“At the state level it almost goes unnoticed. When you talk to state administrators, policy makers, etc. it’s not even on their radar,” she said. “While at the local level when you talk to school administrators and district administrators everything about this ELD model stem from the ongoing teacher turnover rates and never really being able to build teacher expertise is a real issue.”
Heineke said low teacher pay makes it harder for school districts to recruit experienced or qualified English language teachers.
The Arizona Department of Education, the Arizona Office of English Language Acquisition Services and the director of EL Accountability and Support did not respond to multiple interview requests.