Changes in teaching of English are rejected

PHOENIX - State senators refused Thursday to consider the possibility there may be a better alternative to the current system they have in place for teaching English.

On a voice vote, lawmakers rejected a proposal by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, to set up a pilot program giving five schools an exemption from existing laws, which now require students classified as "English language learners" to get their training at special four-hour-a-day immersion classes.

The system of providing four hours a day of intense English instruction was mandated by a 2006 law requiring all schools to use the same method of teaching English to students who are not proficient in English.

Lopez said officials in Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District in Rio Rico have told her the four-hour program "is not effective" for their students.

But Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said the head of a special task force on English learners testified the immersion program has been very successful.

Higher incentive for longer school fails

State lawmakers refused Thursday to increase the incentive for some schools to add an extra 20 days.

On a 4-5 vote, the Senate Education Committee rejected legislation that would have given schools an 8 percent bump in state aid for going to a 200-day calendar. The rejection came even though the legislation already had been scaled back so only underperforming and failing schools would be eligible for the additional funds.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said he's not convinced it's worth the money.

"I'm not sure we're getting a full 180-day calendar for instructional time," he said, what with time taken out for everything from assemblies to sports. "We need to look at the time we're paying for now."

The law already allows schools to extend the year, but the increased aid is limited to 5 percent, even though the number of school days increases by 11 percent.

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, noted the law makes the extra funds available to schools rated D or F by the state. But once a school gets the additional dollars, it remains eligible forever, even if student academic performance improves sharply.

Murphy said that could provide an incentive for a C-rated school to purposely slide, at least briefly, knowing that it would trigger extra money for years to come.

Mandate considered for isolation rules

Arizona schools are on the verge of getting their first-ever mandate to have rules for when they can put unruly and problem students into isolation rooms.

Without dissent, the Senate on Thursday approved legislation that school districts must have policies in place before the new school year for confining pupils alone in an enclosed space.

If schools want to use isolation for discipline, they would first have to notify all parents that it is an option. The information would have to be included in each student's enrollment packet or admission form.

Also, schools would need a system to tell a parent when his or her child is about to be locked up.

HB 2476 would allow school officials to act if a principal or teacher determines that the student "poses imminent physical harm to self or others." In those cases, a school official must make "reasonable attempts" to notify the parent by the end of the day the procedure was used.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she drew up the measure after concluding parents are unaware some schools use isolation rooms.

A different version of the measure has already been approved by the House.

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services