Where is the humanity in education?

Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELS Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? 

By Mary Martinez-Wenzl, Karla Perez, and Patricia Gandara

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


The article is of great personal interest to me as I have taught English Language Learners (ELL) for the last 17 years.  My teaching methodologies have been drastically encumbered by Arizona’s English-only and Structured English Immersion legislation.  I am required to teach ELL students in a segregated environment.  Students are with me for minimum of four hours a day for explicit instruction in reading, writing, conversation and grammar during the prescribed times. During this time, I am the only native and proficient English speaker among the group. Students remain segregated for the rest of the day as they move in groups to mainstream content area classes.  In those classes, they are often separated off to a corner of the room, or partnered with a mainstream student that speaks their native language to lend them support.  For a program that purports English language acquisition, it allows ELL students little or no exposure to authentic English interactions for with the native language speaking peers or even teachers.  Through this article’s exploration of the segregative, English-only, heritage cultural and language negating constructs of Arizona’s Structured English Language Immersion program, the domination of white culture interests in today’s educational system is confirmed.

The article gives an overview of the legislative actions that have led to the Structured English Language program for English Language learners in Arizona today.   Arizona has the nation’s most restrictive English-only law. Proposition 203, passed in 2000, mandates that all public school instruction be taught only in English.  As part of a ruling from 1992, Flores v. State of Arizona, in which a Nogales parent brought forth a class action suit for failing to provide English Language Learners (ELL) with equitable programs or to take “appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs” (Title 20 U.S.C. § 1703(f)) required under the Equal Educational Opportunity Act.  To ensure Arizona state districts were providing adequate instruction for the ELL students, the state passed HB2064.  It provided specific guidelines for the teaching of ELL students.  Part of the bill created a task force to develop a research-based program for instructing ELL students.  The task force adopted a four-hour SEI (Structure English Immersion) program developed by Kevin Clark.  Mr. Clark is a former board member on the Board of Academic Advisors for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) Institute, a conservative think tank for advocating the superiority of English-only programs.

Through professional development in my district, I have attended 5 sessions of day long “Grammar Camp” presented by Kevin Clark and Clark Consulting Group.  Mr. Clark is a very dynamic, charismatic, and believable speaker.  He always has a gimmick, story, or some outrageous fact to share about language acquisition.

As a member of the task force, Clark was required to present research to substantiate his SEI program.  Clark developed a 13-page document titled “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs”. Clark (2007) noted it was not a comprehensive review of literature, but “merely a search for supporting research” (as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). Highly respected, published, linguists, educational researchers, and university professors, Krashen, Rolstad, and Macswan found that in review of Clark’s document, his research did not properly reference his area of inquiry nor were his findings appropriately based on the outcomes of the research (Krashen, Rolstad, & MacSwan, as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). With no regard to overt discrepancies, Clark’s model was adopted. His summary and bibliography became the record of recorded research for program implementation.

I cannot first handedly speak to the motivation of the task force members to approve a model with little or no valid research to confirm the program’s validity.  Common sense would lead me to assume that policy makers with such an important mission would want to conserve valuable time and resources by implementing an ELL program that had proven successful through numerous reputable research studies.  As an outsider, I would theorize that the members may have been influenced to readily approve Clark’s SEI programs because it wholly supports the English-only mandate for instruction in Arizona schools.

Another focus of this paper was to review research to determine which model of instruction was the most successful for ELL students. The first two reviews by the National Literacy Panel (NLP) and The Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) of research used meta-analyses to combine data from 500 collective studies and use statistics to calculate the average effectiveness of each program to teach ELL students English.  The studies looked at time on task and language transfer.  The review established that literacy in a student’s heritage language facilitated academic literacy in English.  Bilingual approaches were more humane for ELL students, aiding in social development as well as supporting them academically.  Additionally, the comparative studies found evidence contrary to Arizona’s theory that 4-hour explicit instruction in English SEI would lead to faster language acquisition; “more time in English does not necessarily result in more rapid acquisition of English” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.10).

In conclusion, the authors of this study determined that Arizona’s approach to educating its ELs was not superior to other forms of instruction.  The authors warn that implementation of this model “carries with it additional risks of segregation, isolation, and high school dropout” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.25).

The idiom of this paper was appropriate for educational practitioners and administrators. The paper was developed in a traditional format with the question stated at the beginning, rationale for the study, evidence from multiple research studies, explanation of the methods and findings, and finally the results.  For academic research minded scholars, the paper offered nine pages of evidence, reviews, research studies, statistics and bar graphs.  The authors’ detailed explanations made the findings comprehensible even to me, a novice researcher.

The findings from this paper are frustrating, incomprehensible and disconcerting to me as teacher of ELL students because I am a believer in equitable practices for all students, and a participating member in a program that is detrimental to immigrant students in English language programs.  It questions my abilities as an action researcher to impact change inside of a political and educational structure whose undertakings ensure the dominance of one culture group at the expense of another.  Where is the humanity in education?



Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. section 1703(f)(Supp.1984).

Krashen, S., Rolstad, K., & MacSwan, J. (n.d.). Review of “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs” of the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force.

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


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Connie Hahne

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