From bilingual to multilingual: A look at California’s education reforms
Thursday, November 17, 2016
California is once again setting new standards for language education reforms.
On Nov. 8, 73 percent of the state's voters supported Proposition 58, a move that will allow public schools to develop their own bilingual and multilingual programs. Revisiting the restrictions on bilingual education that were placed nearly two decades ago, English-only instruction across the state will now be repealed.
Proponents of bilingual education are thrilled. They think the English-only approach has resulted in the skewed results that show 1 of 5 children are still not proficient in English. One study showed that 23 percent (1.4 million) of California's public school students constitute are English language learners (ELLs), and most of them are Spanish-speakers.
Unsurprisingly, detractors are not pleased. They think bilingual instruction will delay non-native students' ability to master English. Since they come from a primarily Spanish-speaking home environment, this is their chance to learn English well. Inability to do so may lower their chances of a good college education.
This was the reason behind establishing the English-only classes for ELLs. The idea was rooted in good thoughts. Officials thought English immersion would help immigrant students learn faster, assimilate and thrive easily within the wider student population. Many are worried that vulnerable students will fall behind.
Or will they?
Proponents of Proposition 58, which has now lifted these restrictions, have outlined two primary benefits for the dual-language immersion programs:
- Students can become truly biliterate when they are instructed in both languages
- English learners can master grade-level content in their native language faster while developing English skills simultaneously
Californian students account for 30 percent of all ELLs in the United States. Multilingual education in public schools could very well give them an edge in a global economy. Teachers, administrators and parents who support this theory think this will be a big support for the kids.
The transition between Spanish and English will be easier, helping them master concepts better. Of course, this will not be an arbitrary decision but an option. School districts will also have the ability to decide whether they want to offer bilingual education, at a local and independent level.
An estimated 200 languages are spoken in the Golden State. This isn't just a bilingual reform, but a multilingual one that is needed to help students be on par with their global counterparts. Bilingualism no longer has a negative attitude attached to it.
In fact, the advent of the internet age has completely changed the way we look at and value things. Mastering two (or more) languages is seen as a positive step toward the future, a way to connect kids with the rest of the world. The federal government recognizes this and has embraced multiliteracy and biliteracy in a bid to better prepare students for a global economy. Across the globe, learning a second language is part of the core curriculum and considered a good practice.
More educators across the U.S. have pushed for dual-language immersion education in public schools. Students who graduate high school with proficiency in two or more languages are also awarded the Seal of Biliteracy.
A growing body of research shows bilingual or multilingual education offers not just sociocultural benefits but also immense academic and cognitive support for students. Instead of missing out on crucial content instruction, they can now master subjects better and also find it easier to learn English.
Research shows dual-language programs lead to above-grade-level achievement in many cases and help in closing the achievement gap between native English speakers and English learners. Student not only manifest better test scores, but also a better understanding of community relationships.
Utah was the first state to implement a comprehensive K-12 dual-language program. States like Texas are offering language-immersion classes, not just in Spanish but also Mandarin. North Carolina started with four dual-immersion classes and now boasts more than 30.
However, the detractors are not wrong on all counts. Schools that are struggling to meet state and federal achievement standards may find it more difficult to incorporate a new program. New lessons will have to be planned, which means more research and planning for the already overworked teachers.
More parents want to embrace the program, which means an increased demand already in the works. With the ongoing shortage of teachers, finding enough bilingual teachers could be a challenge. There should be enough financial incentives for them to invest the time and effort that teaching in a bilingual program needs.
That means rethinking the budget next — and quickly.
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