The LATimes has been reporting recently on the efforts of state senator Ricardo Lara to introduce SB1174, a bill which would restore to districts in California the option to provide bilingual education programs to the students whom they serve. The effort is supported by the California Association of Bilingual Education and Californians together, which is "a coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates and civil rights groups". The issue is entering the public debate, as the LATimes continues its somewhat thin reporting on the issue. Similar efforts have flickered in Massachusetts, which shares a similar law to that of California, but nothing that rises to the level of reporting that the current California initiative is receiving. Maybe this will help Massachusetts lawmakers muster greater political will to restore program flexibility on t
It is refreshing to hear that the American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed a policy report published by the Society for Research in Child Development that attempts to put multilingualism in an appropriate and research-based context, allowing the authors to debunk many of the myths about multilingualism that are propagated in the US today. The report is available here. There is a lot of discussion about the role of parental language input, vocabulary development, and policy-based recommendations based on the overview presented in the report, and it is followed by commentary by leading scholars in the field of multilingual research.
The New York Times reports on the "worrisome exodus of professionals and middle-class Puerto Ricans who have moved to places like Florida and Texas" in the face of deteriorating economic and social conditions on the island. The upsurge in off-island migration is likened the that of the 1950s "when job shortages on the island forced farmers and rural residents to find factory work in cities like New York and Boston. Today it is doctors, teachers, engineers, nurses, professors who are leaving Puerto Rico behind". The major receiving centers appear to be different then versus now, but the emergence of a new diaspora will have implications on- and off-island.
Claude Goldenberg and his colleagues have a paper in press with American Education Research Journal detailing the results of a comparative study of Spanish reading acquisition in the U.S. and in Mexico. In the U.S., the English approach to teaching initial reading via phonemic awareness is also applied to early Spanish reading instruction. Such is not the case in Mexico, where the syllable is typically the unit of initial instruction. Findings showed that children in Mexico performed significantly below their U.S.-based peers in phonemic awareness in kindergarten (because it wasn't taught), but by second grade the Mexican students either matched or surpassed their peers in the U.S. These findings suggest that applying English approaches to Spanish reading does not make a great deal of sense (at least when it comes to teaching kids to read words) given the orthographic differences between the two languages. The paper is freely available here.
Patricia Gándara and colleagues at the UCLA Proyecto Derechos Civiles have recently released a new report on how educational opportunities can be better structured to support the achievement of Latinas in US schools. This report was commissioned by the actor Eva Longoria's foundation, and focused on specific policy levers that can serve to alter trajectories and outcomes among Latina students in the US. The main findings were:
A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly reports on a meta-analysis potential benefits of dual-language education for young children who speak languages other than English. Another finding is that there is very little quality research out there that attempts to explore issues of development among young dual-language learners. A review of the study can be found here.
USA Today reports on a new study in the journal Neurology in which Indian researchers assessed the associations between bilingualism and onset of dementia among 648 patients (391 bi/multilinguals) who were all diagnosed with dementia. Controlling for lots of things like literacy levels, immigration status, education, and gender, the researchers found that onset of dementia was delayed by approximately 5 years among bilinguals as compared with their monolingual counterparts. This study is not particularly novel, but it's interesting because: 1) it's coming out of India and not Canada; 2) it's a naturalistic, not a laboratory study; 3) it takes into account natural variations in the general population like literacy, immigration, etc.; 4) it's messy, with missing data and the like. The analyses are simple and the findings are basic but compelling. Using multiple languages in daily life requires greater cognitive attention and flexibility, resulting in greater mental stamina which delays onset of dementia. Cite for the actual study is: Alladi, S. Bak, T.H., Duggirala, V., Surampudi, B., Shailaja, M., Shhukla, A.K., Chaudhuri, J.R., & Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81, 1 - 7.
Nice article in the Washington Post magazine profiles a young man named Daniel Chen, a second generation child of Chinese immigrants from Shanghai, and tells the story "about the isolating power of a lost mother tongue and an education spent retrieving it". Like many such stories, it is complex, involving movement, translation, frustration, and determination. The author details the phenomenon of first language attrition, which I have documented in my own research, spends some space on the critical period, and does an overall nice job of linking language development and loss within the larger contexts of immigration and family cohesion. Definitely worth a read.
For an entire K-12 schooling generation, Massachusetts has been implementing its voter-approved law governing the education of English language learners, which makes bilingual education effectively illegal in the state. In the text of the law, the reasoning is made clear: Bilingual education is to blame. Indeed, bilingual programs' "failure over past decades is demonstrated by the low English literacy levels of those children". Those children. The lunacy of the law continues in its treatment of second language acquisition, in which we are told that English learners "can easily acquire full fluency and literacy in a new language, such as English, if they are taught that language in the classroom as soon as they enter school". Easily acquire. Thanks to legislative intervention, 2-way bilingual programs were exempted from the English-only provisions of this law, but at the time (and currently) these programs were few and far between.
In the span of the past 13 years, Massachusetts has drawn the interest of federal civil rights officials who found that Boston and 2 other districts were underserving their bilingual learners and required the state to take action. This resulted in the state's current initiative, in which all in-service teachers are required to take the RETELL, a 20-hr. PD sequence focused on how to best serve ELLs in English-only content settings. On the pre-service side, teacher training institutions (like Boston College) have had to provide evidence as to how the content of our courses meets state requirements for teaching ELLs (note that this is happening 13 years after the implementation of the law). It is clear that Structured English immersion (SEI) has taken full hold in our state, with legitimate questions about the language rights of children and families.
With Thomas Menino exiting as mayor after 20 years, we have two candidates interested in education in Boston, and one of their points of interest is 2-way bilingual education. Here is a brief post from EdWeek that provides an overview. The fact that this aspect of ELL education is starting to gain traction in Boston is heartening, and while 2-way is not ideal for all students, schools, or districts (there are implementation difficulties that always need addressing), one hopes that this development represents an initial thaw in the ice age of SEI in Massachusetts.
Of course, equally important is that a new law be on the books in Massachusetts; one that is not a nationalist document that posits ethnocentric grand narratives such as "Immigrant parents are eager to have their children become fluent and literate in English, thereby allowing them to fully participate in the American Dream of economic and social advancement". Native language programs are no better or worse than science education programs in that they must be done well to show evidence of success.
So while Boston's move toward 2-way is laudable, lawmakers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would do well to show the political courage to implement a law that provides district choice across a variety of program options; a law that shows respect for our bilingual children and families; a law that can be implemented without resulting in denial of educational access to school-age children in Massachusetts.
ImmigrationProf Blog has a good summary of a recent set of laws in California that have been enacted to protect immigrants' rights in the state. They invoke California's Proposition 187 as an indicator of how much the state has changed since the middle 90's, and lay out the range of laws that have been implemented. The changes are explained with one simple factor: a growing Latino population in the state = greater voting power. They follow up with another particularly good law (AB 263) that is "designed to stop unscrupulous employers from retaliating against immigrant workers who stand up for their rights". In the past couple decades, California's right-leaning ideologies have spread eastward. Maybe these new approaches toward humane treatment of people will make a similar cross-country effect.