The Four Hour Block: Instructional Ghettos

When I began as an ELL teacher, I thought I would be working with students who were trying to learn English. I quickly learned that the ELL Four Hour Block classrooms are essentially instructional ghettos where students who have not passed a test. In theory, the ELL classrooms have students that have not become proficient in English. In reality, I have students who, in previous years, would have been labeled as remedial.

Case in point: of my original thirty-two students, twenty-six had been labeled as ELL since kindergarten. They had experienced immersion. They could talk conversationally. In many cases, they knew the higher level grammatical structures and yet they were failing tests. I quickly realized that the ELL classrooms were often a thinly veiled remedial track for students who continued to earn Falls Far Below from kindergarten through sixth grade. 

I would love to see a study looking at the Four Hour Block:

  • Is there a higher level of teacher burnout? 
  • Are the students failing due to language issues or due to poor academic performance that prevents them from passing the AZELLA test? 
  • What parts of the Four Hour Block are actually research-based? (Because much of the Four Hour Block seems to go against the current research on language acquisition)
  • What is the success rate in high school and college for students in the Four Hour Block? 
  • Are ELL students in Arizona getting adequate exposure to math, science and social studies?  
  • Have parents been educated in the Four Hour Block and the fact that they can opt out?

When I look at the Four Hour Block, it seems like a throwback to the days of segregation. From kindergarten forward, kids whose parents speak a different language at home must pass a language test that “native speakers” don’t have to pass. Thus, by default, low academic performers from non-English-speaking homes remain in a language-based class regardless of their actual progress in language acquisition.


John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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