Despite voter ban, state guide embraces bilingual ed

Despite voter ban, state guide embraces bilingual ed

(Calif.) Updated guidance from the state on how to teach California’s estimated 1.3 million English learners relies heavily on a strategy largely prohibited by voters 16 years ago – bilingual education.

Peppered throughout the draft framework for English language arts and English language development are references to the value of an English learner’s home language as a vehicle for helping a student learn English.

The proposed guide also repeatedly notes the growing body of research that supports the use of a native language to enhance English acquisition.

“Teachers can,” the document states in the third chapter, “include the primary or home language in instruction, either in bilingual ways or to the extent possible (e.g., learning key words or phrases).”

No doubt many experts in linguistic pedagogy would agree that use of a student’s native language is an important tool to help them understand English. But such a clear embrace of bilingual education as part of the state’s official framework would seem, at minimum, out of step with Proposition 227 – a voter initiative approved in 1998 that requires that students “be taught English by being taught in English.”

Officials at the California Department of Education, however, insist nothing in the proposed framework is inconsistent with the law.

Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, director of the department’s English learner support division and a strong advocate for bilingual education, said that since passage of 227, the prevailing view among educators of a student’s primary language has changed.

Most educators today, she said in an interview last week, recognize that students have a very wide range of cognitive and linguistic abilities regardless of the language they speak.

“I think what we really wanted to call out in the framework is the role of primary language in the development of English,” she said. “And that role is going to be different depending on your language skills and abilities and knowledge of that primary language.”

Still, the ban on most bilingual education programs remains state law and it is unclear how the new framework can coexist.

The instructional proposal comes forward as the Legislature considers a plan to put an initiative before voters in November, 2016 that would strike out key provisions of Proposition 227 and give schools far more flexibility to teach in foreign languages.

The bill, SB 1174 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is scheduled to be heard this week by the Senate’s Education Committee and would serve as an early test of whether, in fact, prevailing views about teaching English learners in their native languages have changed.

The California State Board of Education is also scheduled to get any early look at the new English language arts and English language development framework at its May meeting.

Although an obscure element of the public education system that operates mostly out of public review, content standards and the corresponding curriculum framework are as much a part of classroom activity as textbooks and instructional materials.

The standards outline what a student should know and when; the frameworks guide the actual teaching of the standards and help publishers design instructional materials for California schools.

All of the state’s standards and frameworks are undergoing change – or will soon. As a state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, California has been in the process of revising its content standards and frameworks. So far, English and math have been updated; other subjects are in the works.

Tom Adams, director of CDE’s curriculum frameworks and instructional resources, defended the proposed framework as consistent with state law and a continuation of the work the department has been doing all along to support bilingual programs.

“What we find in the new framework is a deeper and richer discussion,” Adams said of the document’s support for bilingual programs for English learners. “So it’s not like this is the first time we’ve had dual immersion programs, and it’s not the first time we’ve had instructional materials available in English and Spanish and it’s not the first time we’ve supported bilingual programs even after Prop 227.”

Indeed, in the years since passage of 227, many schools have adapted and found ways to legally provide instruction in foreign languages – dual immersion programs being a good example. Parental waivers under 227 also give schools some options.

Still, some of the references in the proposed framework appear to encourage schools to go further:

“In California, bi-literacy is valued and the primary languages that ELs bring to school are considered important resources, valuable in their own right and as a base from which to develop English as an additional language,” the draft frameworks say at one point.

“The term ‘English as an additional language’ is used intentionally to signal that an explicit goal in California is for ELs to “add” English to their linguistic repertoires and maintain and continue to develop proficiency in their primary language(s),” the draft frameworks said in another chapter.

“During listening and speaking activities, English learners can share ideas in their native language with a peer or paraprofessional as they gain proficiency and confidence in learning how to understand and express the same ideas in English,” the draft framework suggests.

Also: “The goals of the standards, articulated in each set of grade level CA ELD Standards, are that ELs: Recognize their home languages and cultures as resources to value in their own right and to draw upon in order to build proficiency in English.”

In the years following the passage of Proposition 227, the number of bilingual classes in the state fell dramatically, though a study in 2000 by the department did not find evidence that the achievement gap between English learners and English speakers had narrowed under the English-only mandate.

As the number of English learners in California schools has grown to 1.3 million, or 20 percent of all students, many schools have implemented dual language immersion programs in which English along with one other language is used daily in the classroom and where students are generally a mix of native English speakers and non-English speakers.

The state board’s meeting, scheduled for May 7 and 8, includes a presentation by CDE staff on the proposed framework. The document is available now on the agency’s website.

As planned, the board would not take any formal action until its July meeting.

When approved, the framework will be the first such document in the nation to include both English language arts standards and English language development standards, Adams said.

Associate Editor Carrie Marovich contributed to this report.