California bilingual education could be a game changer


On Tuesday, California voters will decide on the fate of bilingual education. The passage of Proposition 58 would overturn a 1998 initiative that eliminated most bilingual education in California, providing students with additional learning opportunities. Its impact would touch not only California but could influence policy in Arizona and other Southwestern states with significant immigrant populations.

Pablo Ramírez, an assistant professor of teacher preparation at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and a former California elementary and secondary teacher, researches English-language learners in the public school system. He offers his take on what the passage of Proposition 58 would mean for California and other states.

Question: How would you describe bilingual education?

Answer: In general terms, it is classroom instruction that teaches and values two languages. Further, bilingual education promotes cultural awareness and bi-cognitve development in the bilingual student.

Q: What is the benefit of incorporating more than one language in the classroom?

A: The use and integration of two languages provides students with multiple opportunities for learning. So students are able to strengthen their Spanish and English by having opportunities to engage in meaningful literacy activities that promote cultural awareness and bicultural identity.

Q: Are there drawbacks from teaching more than one language in the classroom?

A: The only drawbacks that exist are related to bilingual programs’ underdevelopment. If bilingual programs do not receive funding for curriculum and instruction and teacher preparation, the program is not able to grow, and unfortunately, this impacts students.

Q: Why does this issue continue to trigger so much controversy?

A: Folks continue to believe that being bilingual is going against U.S. values and traditions. This is a sort of notion of not being American. This truly stems from racist ideology that exists in society.

Q: Some teaching professionals emphasize that English-language learning and dual-language learning are not just about language proficiency, but expanding the ability of non-English speakers to succeed in math, science and other subjects. Can you explain this?

A: Students in dual-language classrooms have the opportunity to learn about math and science in both languages.  This supports students who are Spanish speakers because they have access to rich academic content. For English-speaking students, they have opportunity to practice and reinforce Spanish skills while learning math and science. So dual language, if instructed the correct way, provides access to content to various type of language learners.

Q: How would California’s passage of Proposition 58 affect states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, all of which have significant Latino populations? And how would it impact the United States more generally?

A: If Proposition 58 passes, it completely rejects the all-English movement in California. This means that more schools would be able to provide dual-language learning or other forms of bilingual education to more students.  So, Latino and Latina students will benefit tremendously across the state.

Arizona will be impacted because it will begin to trigger conversations about the role of dual-language learning and bilingual education in schools. This could potentially make the state reconsider the all-English language policies (Proposition 203, passed in 2000) that exist.

New Mexico and Texas would also benefit. Both states have a strong bilingual-education presence, and so their programs would also begin to grow and expand if they modified some of their language policies.

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