Helping Children Learn English: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Today I testified in front of the Joint Committee on Education for one of the bills I’ve filed this session: H486, An Act Relative to An Act Relative to Enhancing English Opportunities for All Students in the Commonwealth.

The goal of this bill is to improve our system so that ALL students in the Commonwealth who are learning English have the opportunity to become proficient and perform at the level of their native English speaking peers.

As the number of non-native English speakers increases in my district and across the Commonwealth, it’s vitally important – both for the well-being of these students, and for the success of our overall economy – that we make sure these kids are learning English in our schools.

In a state where 14% of residents are foreign-born, a failure by Massachusetts public schools to teach English to the children of immigrants will have a chilling effect on the quality of life of thousands of young adults.

But the research on the state of our current system of teaching Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students is clear: we’re doing abysmally, and failing thousands of students.

LEP students have higher dropout rates than any other group (10.4% for LEP students, compared to 3.6% for non-LEP), and the performance disparity between LEP students and their native English-speaking peers is rising disproportionately.

Quite simply, our system as it stands is horribly ineffective at reaching its goals: helping students become proficient in English.

The bill I’ve proposed would give school districts the choice of what English language programs to offer and holds them accountable for their implementation and effectiveness.

It would increase program flexibility for English Language Learners (ELLs), which research clearly shows is the single best way to make sure students learn English. After all, not everyone learns in the same way, and our instructional system should reflect that. School districts would have the flexibility to choose appropriate instruction, including transitional bilingual education, two-way bilingual education, structured English immersion, English as a second language, or other innovative programs.

The bill would also increase accountability, by requiring that school districts collect data on English language learners and file reports on the programs and curricula that have been implemented to educate them, and the outcomes of these programs

Finally, it would increase the role of parents, by requiring that schools notify parents and guardians of the availability of these programs.

We can’t afford not to reform this failing system. Increasing dropout rates for LEP students affect not only those students and their families, but have a negative impact on the economy of the Commonwealth – particularly if those students never become proficient in English.

The idea that we as Massachusetts residents can look the other way, ignoring reality, while thousands of children move through the public schools to a bleak future is not only deeply cynical, but will have a powerful negative effect on quality of life, state revenues, and reliance on state social services.  Massachusetts has always been a place of innovation, especially in the area of education, and it’s time for us to think more broadly, recognizing the diverse and complex makeup of school children in the Commonwealth.

It’s a broken system, and we need to fix it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *