Biliteracy success: Preparing teachers, families

Biliteracy success: Preparing teachers, families

(Calif.) A pilot program being designed to boost the linguistic and literacy skills of preschool children learning two languages at once has caught enough  attention at  the White House that expectations are staff will issue a policy brief on the educational benefits of bilingualism next month.

The Dual Language Learner Pilot, a project of the state’s First 5 California, is aimed at supporting teacher training and effective practices that improve educational gains of California’s more than 1.5 million dual language learners under the age of  5 who, by third grade, lag behind others in reading ability. The $16 million pilot program has been in the planning stage since last year but is moving closer to final design and its planned launch next January.

“We are focused on what those scalable best practices and effective strategies are to make sure everyone working with these young dual language learners has the skills and knowledge they need to best support them,” Sarah Neville-Morgan, deputy director of the program management division at First 5 California, said in an interview.

In California, dual language learners are already behind their peers on measures of school readiness when they enter kindergarten as well as reading assessments at the end of kindergarten and first grade, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, 2013 state standardized testing results show that achievement gaps are still evident in third grade, with 79 percent of English learners scoring below proficient in English-Language Arts and 49 percent below proficient in math.

A robust body of research demonstrates high-quality early learning programs and services can improve young children’s health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes; enhance school readiness; and help close the wide school readiness gap that exists between English-fluent students and English language-learning students at kindergarten entry.

First 5 California’s Dual Language Learning pilot program is based on a conceptual model that relies heavily on providing professional development for teachers, leaders and administrators as well as curriculum specifically developed for use in supporting second- or multi-language acquisition.

Family engagement is also a key component of the model. In fact, First 5 California is planning to follow up with a second pilot focused specifically on programs that bring families and educators together in support of a student’s education, Neville-Morgan said.

The program would adhere to the philosophy that California’s diverse population is a resource to be engaged, encouraged and supported, said the program director. Developing a child’s home language provides the foundation for reading and writing, while preparing children to be biliterate. In addition, it would provide training and resources to enable all educators, regardless of home language, to effectively help promote a child’s development while preserving his or her home language.

Funding, made available through a 1998 voter-approved tobacco tax, would be provided to businesses, non-profits or local educational agencies willing to develop or remodel existing early care and learning programs to meet the criteria of the First 5 dual language learner pilot.

The First 5 California Commission, meeting today to hear results of a stakeholder and expert survey that will contribute to the further design of the program, will be asked to formally approve the project – and the funding – in July.

The Commission was recently contacted by a representative of the White House for information about the proposed pilot to include in a policy brief it plans to issue next month promoting bilingual education and biliteracy. According to Neville-Morgan, First 5 has also been asked to “participate” in as-yet undefined promotional activities around the release of that brief.

According to a staff memo prepared for the Commission’s meeting, the population of young dual language learners has tripled in the last several decades, and these children now account for one quarter of all young children in the U.S.

With approximately three million children ages 0 to 5, California has more children in this age span than any other state. According to First 5, 57 percent of children in that age group live in a household where English is not the primary language. This population is the fastest growing demographic in the state.

California also has the highest number of children in the U.S. living in poverty, contributing to a high number of families with limited access to the resources necessary to help children grow up healthy and ready to succeed. Nationally, 76 percent of children under the age of 5 with mothers in the workforce spend a significant amount of time in non-parental care arrangements, making high-quality early learning a priority, according to documentation on the First 5 California website.

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