Accented educators targeted by No Child Left Behind Act

As President Barack Obama reforms the decade-old No Child Left Behind Act by lifting portions of the law, its effect in certain regions of the United States is still apparent. And apparently, it has gotten pretty ugly.

Certain provisions of No Child Left Behind allowed state officials in Arizona to review teachers and assess their accents for suitability teaching in a classroom. This accent policing continued from the time the act was enacted in 2002 until just two weeks ago when, facing a civil rights lawsuit, Arizona struck an agreement with federal officials to stop monitoring classrooms for mispronounced words and poor grammar, according to The Arizona Republic.

A New York Times article published just days ago elaborates on some of this policing. According to one state education official, accents were not the focus of classroom monitoring. But that still does not explain why some school and state officials have continued to confront teachers about their accents, especially when the same teachers approved by school districts were being approached on a federal level for infractions such as pronouncing “the” as “da” and “another” as “anuder.”

We understand that having teachers who can speak clearly is a very important facet of having the job, and we in no way condemn schools for taking the appropriate measures to ensure that teachers in English-speaking classrooms have the level of language proficiency required to teach those students.

But when teachers are being monitored and written up for having the slightest accent, especially on a federal level, the issue starts to get a bit fishier.

America is well understood to be a melting pot where different cultures come to participate in whatever field they want to or are able to. And having a slight accent should not be a barrier to teaching a classroom of children if the teacher in question is fluent in the language and can be understood clearly.

Enforcing a vague law that sets easily bendable parameters for policing teachers is just bad form — and up until two weeks ago when the policing was called off by civil lawsuit threats, Arizona was the only state in the union practicing this.

Setting individual policies on a school-by-school basis requiring written and oral language proficiency tests makes sense. But when the policy becomes an easily abused policy that targets people with accents, that’s when we begin to see a problem — what constitutes an accent that restricts learning.