The Apr. 8 issue of Education Week has a story about Flores v. State of Arizona, a lawsuit that claims that school programs for English-language learners (ELLs) in the border town of
Much of the long and detailed article is filled with quotations from advocates of higher spending saying that “adequate” (that is, massively higher) spending would fix the schooling of English-language learners.
But there are some details that might escape notice if they are not highlighted:
--Despite relying largely on local tax funds rather than state money (requiring more state spending is what the suit is about), four of the Nogales district’s six elementary schools ranked in the top 10 in the state for ELL performance.
--The child on whose behalf the suit was filed is now a student at the
--An unforeseen consequence is that the lawsuit has forced Nogales and school districts around the state to alter the way they teach English-learners, including separating them for four hours each day from other students.
, ELLs are grumbling about the required four-hour block, and some teachers oppose it as well. Many ELLs who had been taking only regular classes are being required to take four hours of English each day. Nogales High School
….In a class of 21 ELLs at an advanced level of proficiency in English, at least seven said they had been attending
schools since kindergarten. Nogales
Maximiliano Bonorand, 16, a 10th grader who was born in
Tucsonbut has spent his whole school career in , said he was in regular classes last school year and doesn’t think he needed the four-hour English block this school year. "I speak and write English better than Spanish," he said. Nogales
The reporter Mary Ann Zehr is on target in saying that if the suit succeeds before the U.S. Supreme Court, members of the plainiffs’ bar in other states will sue under civil-rights law in federal court, calling for states to provide “adequate funding” for ELL education.
Now let’s turn to the professional-journalism side of the article, focusing on this important issue of “adequate funding.” Let’s see whom the reporter quotes.
On the more-spending side, quotations from:
- The plaintiffs (mother and child);
- Roger L. Rice, the executive director of Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy Inc., a Somerville, Mass.-based advocacy group for ELLs;
circuit court judge; U.S.
- the school improvement director for the
district; and Nogales
- two ELL teachers in the
district (the number of ELL teachers has already increased three-fold in the district because of the court-mandated four-hour block). Nogales
Also listed as supporting more spending are:
for Law in the Public Interest, Arizona Center
- a federal district judge,
- Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard (identified as a Democrat),
- Gov. Janet Napolitano (identified as a Democrat), and
- the Obama administration (which has filed an amicus brief).
On the side of opposing court-ordered spending, quotations from:
school superintendent Shawn A. McCollough; Nogales
- State superintendent Tom Horne; and
- The attorneys’ brief for the state (the article points out that the defense’s legal team includes Kenneth Starr)
Also listed as opposed:
- Gov. Janice K. Brewer (identified as a Republican) and
- the Republican leadership of the state legislature.
Here we have biased journalistic judgment. The reporter has lined up nonprofits, grassroots teachers-parents-and-children, and Democrats (including President Obama) on one side. She then has lined up local and state management (defended by Kenneth Starr of Monica Lewinsky fame) and Republicans on the other.
The problem with this morality play is that it leaves out any grassroots teachers, parents, and children who oppose more spending -- indeed, any taxpayer activists who are informed about Arizona education -- and any nonprofits on the other side (like the Goldwater Institute -- see its analysis here and here).
The Education Week article also fails to look at the evidence on whether spending alone boosts student achievement. Yet there was an amicus brief by stellar school-finance specialists which argued that attention in
Inadequate journalism on adequate spending.
UPDATE (4/15/09) Mark Walsh on the School Law Blog has an Apr. 13 preview on this case that covers the dueling amicus briefs from school-finance specialists.