Massachusetts legislation allows instruction in students' home language
- Legislation passed by the Massachusetts legislature last week overturns a 15-year-old ballot measure by allowing schools to provide instruction in students’ home language, The Boston Globe reports.
- Approved by both the House and Senate in a matter of hours, the legislation now awaits Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature — and while it’s unclear whether he will support it, the bill passed by “veto-proof margins,” the paper reports.
- Supporters of the bill, including some members of the legislature, said they know English immersion doesn’t work for every student. The bill doesn’t require only bilingual education, but will allow schools flexibility to use a dual-language approach or other methods.
Dual-language programs, especially in the early years, have been gaining momentum as classrooms see rising numbers of English learners. In these programs, native English speakers and students learn general academic content in two languages, often alternating between morning and afternoon or from one day to the next.
Recently released research by the RAND Corporation, conducted in partnership with the American Councils on International Education and the Portland Public Schools in Oregon, is among the first studies to show that students in such programs perform better than students learning only in English. In the study, 1,625 students were randomly assigned to pre-K and kindergarten immersion programs in Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Russian from the 2004-05 school year to the 2010-11 school year.In 5th grade, reading scores for dual language learners represented about seven additional months of learning and about nine additional months in 8th grade.
In some classrooms, there is not a predominant second language, making dual language programs harder to implement, Susan Neuman, an education professor at New York University and an early literacy expert said last week at the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference. In the Bronx in New York City, for example, there are early-childhood classrooms of 22 children with 22 different home languages, she said.
Her presentation focused in part on strategies that can benefit dual-language learners, meaning they are learning both English and a home language simultaneously. These include using images and concrete objects along with text, integrating songs and rhymes into lessons because they are easy for children to remember, grouping students together with different language abilities and allowing children some extra time to think when asking them a question.
“When children are learning multiple languages, it is an asset that we want to move on. We’ve often diminished their second language rather than promoting it,” she said. “These children are so highly capable when we give them an opportunity to show us that.”
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