State Board of Education Approves Historic “English Learner Roadmap” By: Vickie Ramos Harris, Associate Director of Education Policy
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 was a historic day for policy change for our Dual Language Learners (DLLs) and English Learners (ELs). The State Board of Education unanimously passed the California English Learner Roadmap: Strengthening Comprehensive Educational Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Learners, enacting an assets-based English Learner policy and removing the harmful policy put in place by Proposition 227 (1998) that placed nearly all ELs in English-only classrooms. With the new EL Roadmap, Californians have chosen a path forward that builds on the state’s assets found in its diverse population – rather than treating DLLs and ELs as a deficit and a liability that lowers test scores. Moreover, it’s important to note the explicit language on articulation and alignment with early education in the Roadmap’s mission and principles. Meaningfully aligned and articulated pathways for ELs are imperative across the crucial language developmental phase between ages birth to eight. Research over the past two decades has provided strong evidence that the brain is capable of successfully learning two or more languages from birth, and that bilingual language development confers cognitive and social benefits to children. California is home to the nation’s largest population of ELs: roughly 1.4 million children. Nearly a quarter of our K-12 public school students are ELs and 60% of children ages birth to five live in a home where English is not the primary language.
The EL Roadmap is the first new language policy adopted in nearly 20 years. This revolutionary policy removes outdated barriers and reflects a vision for all California students to have the opportunity to be bilingual and biliterate and be celebrated for their diverse linguistic assets. Approval of the Roadmap followed discussions that included emotional testimony from the State Board of Education (SBE) Board Members, EL champions, and me, recounting the impact of Proposition 227, those who fought against it, the hard work it took to repeal it, and the opportunity to move forward with new policy, ending with tears of joy and cheers. We advocated for early care and education (ECE) to continue to be a part of this discussion: including guidance resources and tools the California Department of Education (CDE) will create, and asking the SBE to ensure that regulations for Proposition 58 (2016) implementation include ECE. We also highlighted the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) research (2017), which calls for supporting DLLs from early childhood and for creating articulation and alignment across our education system. As notable examples, we mentioned the Early Childhood-DLL Pilot at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the work of EduCare in Long Beach to bring dual immersion programs to ECE. Following the powerful discussion, we were delighted to see our goals realized in the final policy. Our close partners Californians Together and the California Association of Bilingual Education paved the way for this victory and we are grateful to continue to work closely moving forward.
The EL Roadmap places us on a path where all Californian students will be given equitable opportunities starting from early childhood. We can now envision a classroom of DLLs and ELs, who, in time, become bilingual and biliterate, and are thriving.
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