State Capitol News
4:06 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

State education officials agree they will no longer force school to retrain or reassign English immersion teachers with accents

Phoenix, AZ – The issue arose when the Department of Education started sending monitors into classrooms to see if those teaching English were proficient in the language. That's what's required by both state and federal law. But the U.S. Department of Justice said state monitors were singling out teachers solely because they spoke with an accent -- teachers who were certified as proficient by their schools. For example, one teacher was singled out for saying "leeves here" instead of "lives here." And there was an instance where a teacher said "anuder" instead of "another." The attorneys for the federal government said that subjective standard raised the question of illegal discrimination. In a deal, the state agreed to stop checking. But state education department spokesman Andrew LeFevre said that does not eliminate the requirement.

(The teachers still need to be fluent. That requirement has not changed. It's just who has the authority to guarantee that teachers are fluent. So basically what this resolution agreement or agreement that we reached is saying is that's still a requirement. We agree to that. We just won't be the ones monitoring it any more.)

Put another way, if the school district concludes a teacher is fluent, the state will no longer second-guess. The whole issue of fluency -- and where accents fit in -- has created a larger debate. Amy Fountain, a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Arizona, said accents can be an issue if a teacher cannot be understood. But she said accents are not bad -- even when the person is teaching English.

(It benefits children acquiring any variety of English or any other language to hear a wide variety of accents while they're learning whatever their target language is. Students in the classroom are hearing the language of their teacher. But they're also watching television, they're also listening to the radio.)

Attorney General Tom Horne, who had been state school superintendent when the complaint was filed, said the monitoring has never been about accents but instead dealt only with proficiency.

(Well, at a minimum, it has to be comprehensible. If they're not comprehensible, the kids aren't going to learn to speak comprehensible English.)

Horne said the purpose of the monitors was to spot teachers who they believed were not proficient in English and call that to the attention of school officials. In some cases teachers got some training and in some cases they were reassigned elsewhere. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.