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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Multilingual programs promote career readiness
Fostering communication and empathy through multilingual programs
By Natasha Neumann | March | April 2021
Career readiness, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, is defined by the following eight competencies: Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Oral/Written Communications, Teamwork/Collaboration, Digital Technology, Leadership, Professionalism/Work Ethic, Career Management and Global/Intercultural Fluency (NACE, 2020).
K-12 multilingual programs, specifically dual language immersion programs, tick the boxes of the NACE career readiness competencies. Multilingual programs value not only additional language acquisition, but also foster empathy and cross-cultural understanding. Students and parents appreciate the value of foreign language learning not only as a discrete skill, but as a way to learn empathy and how to relate to a fellow classmate who has a different cultural background and different life experience. Second language proficiency coupled with a cross-cultural awareness best prepares students for a future in an increasingly globalized economy (Thomas & Collier, 1997). The entire dual language immersion experience adds an additional layer of empathy and connection very relevant for students preparing to enter a diverse and global workforce.
Background of dual language immersion programs
Dual language immersion programs are growing in number across the nation in response to both the needs of English language learners and native English speakers to mutually acquire a second language while learning academic content area beginning in kindergarten. As the United States, and California in particular, continues to see its English language learner population increase, schools around the country are exploring different bilingual models in an effort to promote academic achievement for all students, despite language background. The English language learner population is growing and often these students do not attain the same level of academic achievement as their English-speaking peers (Lindholm-Leary, K., & Genesee, F., 2010). At the same time, a growing number of monolingual English-speaking parents are looking for schools that offer foreign language instruction as enrichment for their elementary age children to learn a second language. One model, which simultaneously addresses the needs of English language learners and native English speakers acquiring a second language, is the dual language immersion program. Dual language immersion programs serve both ELL students who are acquiring English, as well as native English speakers who are acquiring a second language (Bearse & de Jong, 2008). In addition to language acquisition, Gerena (2011) found dual language immersion programs promote academic success for both groups of students. Gerena (2011), explained the goals of the dual language immersion program are academic excellence and language proficiency in two languages, English and the second target language through content area instruction in both languages.
In addition to positive academic and cognitive outcomes, dual language immersion programs encourage and foster a cultural understanding amongst peers of different backgrounds in the same classroom, striving to learn each other’s language through content. Not only are cross-cultural relations and an appreciation for students from a different background fostered amongst students in a dual language immersion program, but the status and role of the two languages are leveled and equally valued. Sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu (1991) described linguistic capital as the monetary-like embodiment connecting language use and status to the decisions around when and how we use language to maximize our power. Bourdieu’s linguistic capital theories have repercussions in the field of education and bilingual education as children of minority languages are either schooled in English only or English along with their native language. By schooling in multiple languages, these programs also raise the status and importance of languages other than English (Gomez et al, 2005).
Given the effectiveness of dual language immersion programs in developing second/another language proficiency, policy makers and educators in the U.S. acknowledge a need for residents who are proficient in more than one language (Howard & Christian, 2002; Christian, 1996; Calderon & Carreon, 2000). Raising biliterate students through our public schools expands our nation’s language resources by conserving and building upon language skills of minority students while developing second language skills in English speaking students. In addition to increasing the bilingual population, there is hope of improving relations between majority and minority groups by building cross-cultural understanding and appreciation (Christian, 1996).
Preparing multilingual students for a global economy
Unlike an era of English-only policy in this country, policymakers and parents are currently striving to educate globally competent and bilingual students. Proficiency in a second language and intercultural competency open up employment opportunities. Employers demand increasing involvement in the global economy. High level and high paying jobs will demand competence in more than one language (Fixman, 1990; Garcia & Otheguy, 1994; Halliwell & Jones, 1991; Mann, Brassell, & Bevan, 2011). On a sociocultural level, becoming bilingual expands one’s worldview and enables one to not only know more but also know differently. In summary, language is viewed as a resource in the current global marketplace (Gomez et al, 2005). Given this current climate, dual language immersion programs are a promising approach in education.
The push for globally competent and bilingual students is set in a context of an already diverse country in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013), “the percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners was higher in school year 2011–12 (9.1 percent, or an estimated 4.4 million students) than in 2002–03 (8.7 percent, or an estimated 4.1 million students).” In contrast to the national statistics, the English language learner population in the state of California, in which this article is based, is higher at 29 percent of the state’s K-12 public school enrollment. As the student population changes, so must educators adapt to students’ needs. DLIPs are a method of adapting instruction to meet the needs of a linguistically diverse student population as well as the language-majority students. In contrast to other bilingual education programs, DLIPs are also better positioned to encourage cross-cultural understanding and biliteracy as demanded by the global marketplace (Genesee & Gandara, 1999).
Multilingual initiatives in California
On July 1, 2018, the California Department of Education’s regulation for implementing Proposition 58, also known as the CA Education for a Global Economy Initiative, took effect. Californians overwhelmingly voted in favor of empowering school district and county offices of education to establish programs for English learners, better described as emergent bilinguals, that promote proficiency in multiple languages and leverage the home language as an asset. While this work is not new for many of California’s educators, there is now legislation in place to support multilingual programs in schools.
That same year also marked the launch of Global California 2030 as a call to action to grow and strengthen multilingual programs, so that half of K-12 students graduate from high school proficient in more than one language. With this vision, great efforts are being made from school districts to higher education to increase the number of teachers with bilingual authorizations in languages such as Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, French, Japanese, Italian, Armenian and German to serve in new and existing dual language immersion programs.
Currently, several initiatives across California support the growth and linguistic rigor of dual language immersion programs. Support and funding to increase the number of bilingual authorized teachers, provide ongoing training for administrators of dual language programs, and assist districts with creating new dual language immersion programs comes from several public and private organizations such as the California Department of Education, Californians Together, the Center for Equity for English Learners at Loyola Marymount University and the California Association of Bilingual Educators.
The California Department of Education sponsored the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Project Grant starting January 1, 2018 through June 30, 2020 and provides over $600,000 to eight grant proposals in order to increase the amount of teachers with bilingual authorizations and support new dual language immersion programs. The eight awarded grant proposals for Anaheim Union High School District, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Oak Grove School District, Patterson Joint Unified School District, Riverside Unified School District, Sacramento County Office of Education, San Bernardino County Office of Education and San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, include partnerships between school districts, county offices of education, higher education institutions and additional partners such as the Sobrato Family Foundation.
The California State Seal of Biliteracy is another program to support and recognize multilingualism. The Seal of Biliteracy was initially developed by Californians Together in 2008. Currently, there are more than 165 school districts in California granting the award to graduating high school seniors who attain a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in two or more languages, including American Sign Language. According to the California Department of Education, the purpose of the State Seal of Biliteracy is to encourage students to study languages, certify attainment of biliteracy, and “provide employers with a method of identifying people with language and biliteracy skills” (CDE website, 2020). Further, the CDE states additional purposes of the State Seal of Biliteracy are to prepare students with 21st century skills, strengthen intergroup relationships, affirm the value of diversity and honor the multiple cultures and languages of the community. In 2011, California became the first state to enact legislation creating the California State Seal of Biliteracy. The state of New York followed California’s lead and became the second state to enact legislation for the New York State Seal of Biliteracy. According to the Seal of Biliteracy website, there are now over 40 states with an approved State Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal of Biliteracy program, initiated by Californians Together, has gained national momentum as the recognition and value of multilingualism grows. Multilingualism is not only valued by employers and college admissions teams, but also by parents interested in the development of empathetic and globally minded citizens.
Most recently, the Educator Workforce Investment Grant: English Learner Roadmap Implementation established by Senate Bill 75 for the 2019-20 California State Budget to provide professional learning for teachers and paraprofessionals across the state was awarded to EL RISE! (comprised of a partnership of Californians Together, the Center for Equity for English Learners Sobrato Early Academic Language) and the Multilingual California Project (directed by Californians Together). Both projects aim to enact the 2017 CA English Learner Roadmap in support of English learners as well as dual language learner students. EL RISE! is collaborating with 20 county offices of education in California who combined serve 76.7 percent of the state’s English learners. According to the Californians Together website, EL RISE! is a momentum-building, support system to help English learning students thrive and lead in a culturally diverse global world. EL RISE! supports students by providing educators easy access to professional learning, ensuring English learners have access to intellectually rich instruction, provide students with tools to participate in a globalized environment and achieve access and equity.
There are four Anchor County Offices of Education, (Los Angeles, Tulare, Sacramento and Yolo) that will partner with selected Local Education Agencies to address all aspects of the English Learner Roadmap, commit to working across departments and divisions of their county office “to build shared direction and coherence in infusing the English Learner Roadmap into work with LEAs.” Partner County Offices of Education, Contra Costa, Kern, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Riverside and Ventura, will work with the three lead organizations to “design a customized plan for the professional learning to be delivered in their county, will co-host capacity building opportunities and will dedicate staff to facilitating Communities of Practice as ongoing support for implementation.” The Participating County Offices of Education, (Butte, Imperial, King, Merced, Orange, San Joaquin, Solano and Stanislaus) will “participate in online sessions on new research, be provided sessions on the ELR LCAP Toolkit, and be a dissemination mechanism for tools and resources developed through work with Anchors and Partners.” The EL RISE! events calendar is displayed on the website along with Anchor County Offices of Education with links to upcoming webinars for teachers and administrators on topics from The English Learner Roadmap Elementary Teacher Strand and Elementary Dual Language Pedagogy Strand.
Additional information on professional development resources for working with dual language learners can be found on the CDE’s Dual Language Learners Professional Development site at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/dllprofdev.asp.
The big idea
Dual language immersion programs prepare students for a global economy and foster communication, as well as an appreciation of languages and cultures different from their own. Multilingual learning must be viewed as a means to open doors, increase communication and understanding, and build relationships. Equal value and appreciation must be placed on languages to avoid deficit notions and subtractive language loss. Many emergent bilinguals experience subtractive models in school by acquiring English while losing their native language (Thomas and Collier, 2012). Dual language immersion programs provide a cross-cultural classroom environment for students learning English as well as for native English-speaking students learning a second language (Bearse & de Jong, 2008). Thus, both groups of students are acquiring a second language. Dual language immersion programs are an additive, enrichment type of bilingual education. Educators, and specifically school districts, continue to seek effective ways of providing instruction for English language learners, enabling them to keep pace with native English speakers in the classroom and beyond high school into the workforce. As the English language learner population continues to grow in California and across the nation, school districts can capitalize on the native language of English learner students by providing an additive language classroom environment for all students.
Dual language immersion programs prepare students for a global economy and foster communication as well as an appreciation of languages and cultures different from their own.
According to the ongoing collection of dual immersion school information, the Center for Applied Linguistics Dual Language Program Directory states there are 448 schools in 37 states and the District of Columbia in which all or part of their curriculum is taught through a second language. Among this group of dual language schools, there are 22 foreign languages represented. While these numbers may sound extraordinary, they should be viewed as just the beginning. Recently, at the Association of Two-Way & Dual Language Education Conference held Dec. 3-5, 2020, Dr. Fred Genesee stated, “It is estimated that there are two to three times more people who speak English as an L2 than speak it as an L1. Thus, monolingual English speakers are at a disadvantage in the international job market because they are competing with others who speak English and another language. International businesses are looking for bi- and multilingual speakers in order to compete in the world marketplace” (Genesee, 2020).
By viewing multilingualism as a great asset, California is poised to prepare a generation of students who will be empathetic, open, and eager to interact with communities around the globe. While we have multilingual students and a vision for a 2030 Global California, the growth of dual language immersion programs is in a precarious state as we must prepare additional bilingual authorized teachers and support district leaders in their efforts to grow programs. Through collaboration among LEAs, county offices of education, and institutes of higher education, and with policy backed by funding from the state, dual language immersion programs hold great promise of developing multilingual students poised to not only be career ready, but also contribute to the world economy.
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Natasha Neumann is the Program Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Bilingual Teacher Consortium within LACOE’s Multilingual Academic Support Unit and serves as an associate professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
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