Arizona English Learners Face Segregation, Low Self-Esteem
Two UA College of Education faculty members and one graduate student have co-authored two studies finding that English learners in Arizona schools often are segregated and experience discrimination, both of which hamper their academic success.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
July 8, 2010

English learners in Arizona are prone to face segregation and discrimination and, as a result, have lower levels of self-esteem in public schools, according to a newly released suite of articles.

Two University of Arizona faculty members and a graduate student contributed to a major multi-institutional research project intended to evaluate structured English immersion and the experience of English learners in Arizona.

UA College of Education faculty members Cecilia Rios-Aguilar and Luis C. Moll, along with graduate student Manuel González-Canche, co-authored two of the nine articles released by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The UA team’s articles, “Implementing Structured English Immersion in Arizona: Benefits, Costs, Challenges and Opportunities” and “A Study of Arizona’s Teachers of English Language Learners,” were made public with seven others Thursday.

“We really got to the issues  that teachers and EL students are facing,” said Rios-Aguilar, an assistant professor of higher education. Moll is a teaching, learning and sociocultural studies professor, while González-Canche is one of Rios-Aguilar's graduate students.

“We plan to continue studying these issues as a group,” Rios-Aguilar said about the future work of the collective. “We all think these are important issues.”

The team’s work indicates to policymakers, practitioners and families the complex nature of adequately teaching English to students, particularly in a state that has seen tremendous growth in the number of English learners in recent years, she said.

“No easy solution can be given. It requires collaboration, hard thinking and dialogue with teachers, parents, administrators, students and researchers,” Rios-Aguilar added.

Among the UA team’s key findings:

  • English learners were not proficient in English after one year in the new state-mandated English Language Development, or ELD, block program.
  • 85 percent of teachers said that for the English learners, being segregated was “harmful” to their education.
  • Ways in which the ELD block program was initiated varied district by district.
  • Given the four-hour block, English learners were placed at a disadvantage for successfully completing the necessary coursework to graduate from high school or pursue higher education.

All told, 21 researchers and graduate students at the UA, Arizona State University, Stanford University and UCLA contributed to the project, called the Arizona Educational Equity Project.

"I know of no other effort where scholars have worked so hard and so fast to produce rich data on an urgent issue of Latino rights," Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, noted in a press release issued Thursday.

The massive research effort was initiated after the 2009 Horne vs. Flores Supreme Court case in Arizona in which the court held that the state was not required to provide additional support to English language learners.

The state has since initiated four-hour daily blocks in which students receive instruction in reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and other areas.

But according to Rios-Aguilar, Moll and González-Canche, the blocks and also the state law may be hampering the academic success and potential of English learners.

In the first study, the team conducted telephone interviews with 26 English language coordinators across the state. The interviewees were randomly selected.

They found that while each of the 26 districts were in compliance with the law, the ways in which the ELD block program was implemented varied, and with considerable challenge. Also, even when districts attempted to offer additional support – such as after school or summer programs – for students who needed more help, the majority either did not or could not take advantage of the resources.

And coordinators reported that students did not get “core” academic training to aid in their graduation as a result of implementation of the ELD block, and the block classes also resulted in some students feeling isolated.

In the second study – the first statewide evaluation of its kind – the team surveyed 880 elementary and secondary school teachers in 33 schools throughout Arizona. Each participant was asked to share his or her perceptions of their students’ experience.

Their findings suggest that while teachers believe their students are capable of academic success, the students are hampered by the ELD block, particularly when their success is compared to that of their English-speaking peers.

More than half of the teachers reported that their students were being stereotyped as “slow learners” and experienced a decline in self-esteem as a result of being placed in the ELD block program.
“There is a lot of research that clearly indicates that becoming proficient in another language can take five years,” Rios-Aguilar said. 

“We are not saying students should not learn English. But we are saying that the acquisition of learning another language is a complex process,” she said. “It’s not just about them being able to build grammatically correct sentences. We want them to be socially accepted and socialize successfully, but also able to understand math, science and other subjects, too.”


Resources for the media

Cecilia Rios-Aguilar 

UA College of Education