English language learning bill changes public school education

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation so that public schools are no longer required to teach in English only, according to a press release.

An Act for language opportunity for our kids (S.2125), also known as the LOOK Bill, which removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default English Language Learner (ELL) program model.

The act is thought to give schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students, according to a press release from Massachusetts General Court.

“The current one-size-fits-all model has proven a failure over the past decade plus at teaching English – period,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, according to the press release. “For the sake of our ELL students, our school budgets, and our workforce, we need to do something different. S.2125 will empower parents and trust educators to make informed decisions about appropriate tactics for a 6 year-old with some English exposure versus a 12 year-old who has received little formal schooling. And in this precarious moment for our country, the bill recognizes that bilingualism is a strength—not a problem to be cured.”

Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to over 90,204 students, or 9.5 percent of the student population. Last year, 90 percent of school districts had at least one ELL student and 19 percent of districts had 100 or more ELLS.

It is thought that for some children, moving into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and have major implications on future educational success.          The achievement gap between ELL students and their peers has not changed in recent years. In 2016, 64 percent of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87 percent of all Massachusetts students.

The LOOK bill attempts to address this discrepancy by removing the current mandate requiring SEI as the default ELL program model in efforts to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s students. Under the bill, school districts may choose from any comprehensive, research-based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component.

The bill encourages a high level of parental involvement in selecting, advocating, and participating in English learner programs. It also requires more careful tracking of ELL students’ progress to better identify and assist English learners who do not meet benchmarks.

“Language should never be a barrier to a student’s academic success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), according to the press release. “This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for our English Language Learner students. It also encourages biliteracy, recognizing that knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset in our global economy.”

Schools will also be able to adopt the state seal of biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have met academic benchmarks in more languages in addition to English.

The bill will now move to a conference committee, where negotiators will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills.

“To ensure that every child in the Commonwealth receives the high quality education that he or she deserves, we must rethink the way we approach educating our English language learners,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the lead sponsor of the bill, according to the press release. “By allowing for flexibility to implement new English learning programs, increasing parental involvement, and recognizing that multilingualism is a valuable asset in today’s global economy, this bill takes crucial strides to guarantee that every student receives a fair opportunity at educational success.”

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