From the Boston Globe, 4.10.15
Boston’s failings highlight flaws in state’s English immersion law
of Justice continues to find some Boston Public Schools failing to meet the needs of their bilingual students (“Schools’ language barriers persist,” Page A1, March 30). This may be due to the fact that the Boston schools are indeed failing, but maybe these schools are implementing our laws exactly as intended.
In Massachusetts, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative effectively abolished bilingual education in 2002, replacing it with Sheltered English Immersion, an untested approach to instruction for English learners. This law mandated that children who do not speak English fluently attend SEI programs “during a temporary transition period not normally intended to exceed one school year.” The result? Thousands of English-learning children mainstreamed into classrooms with many teachers understandably unprepared to meet these students’ needs.
After 12 years of herculean efforts by the state to regulate SEI implementation with thoughtful diligence, the federal government continues to fault how English learners are educated. Could it be that the Boston schools are actually doing a good job of implementing a flawed law, and as a result our bilingual learners continue to struggle?
The Massachusetts law is ignorant with respect to second-language acquisition, bilingualism, and the instructional approaches that support English-learning children. We need innovative and diverse program models that are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of bilingual learners.
The great irony here is that, implemented correctly, this law may decrease learning outcomes for bilingual students, ensuring visits from the US department of Justice and Education in perpetuity. Our best option is to reconsider this pernicious law that neglects our students’ learning needs.
The writers are associate professors at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
So nice to see this headline from the Pew Research Center showing that, among Latino/a adults in the US, bilingualism is more common than English or Spanish dominance. In a recent survey, 36% of respondents claimed to be bilingual, while 25% spoke mainly English. However, 6 in 10 out of those 25% English dominant speakers also spoke Spanish (that is, they're bilingual too!). And, 38% reported mainly using Spanish. It all makes one question why we continue to use terms like language minority in research with people who speak multiple languages. The reality suggests linguistic forces in the US remain vibrant and we need to move toward additive, not subtractive, terminology.
There appears to be some steam gathering in the news media's reporting of the increasing popularity of dual language programs. Recent empirical evidence shows that English learning bilinguals in these programs are reclassified to fluent English proficient at slower, but higher, rates than their peers in non-dual language programs. New York City recently announced a push to increase the number of such programs city-wide, and now Prince George's County, Maryland has added 3 new programs. Catholic schools across the country are also moving forward, and attempting to link themselves with one another to promote biliteracy outcomes for an increasingly Latino population. Key going forward is to monitor whether and how these programs function in serving bilingual children who speak home languages other than English, as well as monolingual, minoritized children who are typically underserved in US schools.
Great TED spoken word out of NYC by Jamila Lyiscott. She merges linguistic with racial identity, invokes history, speaks truth!
I keep posting about the possibility of dismantling the English-only laws that traveled across the country from 1998 through 2002 in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. With its bitter anti-immigrant politics and fear of a Mexican planet, Arizona seems unlikely to ever undo its English-only mandate. Massachusetts is barely any better, with politicians unable to muster the will to make changes after the state department rolled out a large-scale initiative to respond to Department of Justice findings that Massachusetts failed to serve large swaths of bilingual children across the state. Now California is poised to do what Arizona and Massachusetts have not: allow the voters to undo what they did back in 1998. After some time in the making, Ed Week reports that the November 2016 ballot will include legislation that undoes the 1998 law. From the article: "[E]xperts said that the debate will be much different this time around. Voters in California are now more comfortable with having a multilingual population". We shall see.
From Professors Elinor Saiegh-Haddad and Susan Rothstein:
At the end of August 2014, a number of members of Knesset in Israel proposed a bill to make Hebrew the only official language of Israel, and thus to demote Arabic from its current status as an official language of the State. Arabic is the native language of over 20% of the population in Israel, and it has been spoken here continuously at least since the 7th century. This proposal thus has both practical consequences and symbolic significance.
The Arabic Language Academy in Israel has circulated a general petition in Hebrew protesting this proposal. We feel that it is important, in addition, that linguists and experts in language research throughout the world add their voices to the protest. The text of the petition is below. If you would like to add your name to the petition you can access it at
When we have enough signatures, we would like to publish the text of the petition (in three languages) in Ha-aretz newspaper. If you are prepared to contribute to funding such an advertisement, please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org . We would need 50-60 people who are prepared to contribute 100 shekels each in order to fund the advertisement. If enough people are interested in contributing, we will let you know how to send the money.
Please sign the petition with your name and affiliation.
Please forward this to as many relevant people as possible.
Beginning in September of 2014, the teacher education program at Boston College's (BC) Lynch School of Education will begin a pilot of a dual-language certification program. Reported in the BC Chronicle today, I hope this gets some play outside BC circles. The Teaching Dual Language Learners (TDLL) certificate will be offered initially to incoming elementary education masters students who possess dual language proficiency in Spanish and English. In addition to completing targeted coursework on bilingualism, biliteracy, and dual-language education, TDLL students will complete placements in partner dual-language immersion programs in the greater Boston area.
Nice post, with a good video link, that revisits the human 'language instinct', and asks us to consider whether and how language develops when linguistic exposure is absent. The case of deaf children in Nicaragua developing their own linguistic system from limited language input provides good context to consider that "although children require a certain amount of linguistic input at a young age in order to learn language, they're capable of generalizing from incomplete information to something far richer and more complex".
Melissa Pandika at ozy.com writes a compelling article profiling Helen Tager-Flusberg and the influence she's had exploring the linguistic dimensions of autism, particularly in children. While the article spends time lauding the achievements of Tager-Flusberg as an unconventional autism researcher and, arguably, a feminist crusader in the male-dominated world of psychological research, the focus is squarely on the contributions of Tager-Flusberg in exploring the nature of language, its social functions, and its development as it relates to autism spectrum disorders.