Effective Systems

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


In the Horne v. Flores Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2009, the Court wrote that one basis for finding Arizona in compliance with federal law regarding the education of its English learners was that the state had adopted a significantly more effective instructional model for EL students, that being Structured English Immersion (SEI). This paper reviews the extant research on SEI, its definitions, origins, and strategies. The paper concludes that there is no research basis for the court’s conclusion, that at best SEI is no better or no worse than other instructional strategies when they are both well implemented and the goal is English acquisition. However, SEI as implemented in Arizona carries serious negative consequences for EL students stemming from the excessive amount of time dedicated to it, the de-emphasis on grade level academic curriculum, the discrete skills approach it employs, and the segregation of EL students from mainstream peers. Moreover, the paper argues that there are, in fact, strategies that can ameliorate these problems as well as provide an additive, rather than a subtractive, educational experience for English learner and mainstream students alike.