Legislation Stands to Alter the Shape of Multilingual Education

It’s impossible to bring up any education-related topic without stirring up controversy.  Foreign language instruction in the public schools, whether immersion or another model, is certainly one of the hot-button issues.  Pair this debate with immigration reform, English-as-official-language, and school assessments, and you have a recipe for uproar.  Of course, that’s business as usual for politics, and these are some of the most pressing issues of the day, which is why legislation is popping up all over that could directly affect all of these things.

On the national level, H.R. 6036, or the Excellence and Innovation in Language Learning Act, cites a pervasive lack of foreign language capacity that threatens the security and economic well-being of the United States. Quietly introduced by Congressmen Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) on August 1, the last day of the 111th Congress, the bill would start language instruction in early childhood and ensure that students are able to build capacity throughout their elementary and secondary education until they gain proficiency.

The legislation proposes the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce pool what they know about language and put together a synopsis of how to meet a variety of language-related needs.

The bill requests $200 million worth of funding each year, a pittance compared to the $2 billion the Committee on Economic Development estimates is lost each year by American businesses as a direct result of lacking cross-cultural skills. The military costs in Afghanistan total $200 million each day, and $200 million is nothing compared to the loss of human life should there be a serious national security breach due to lack of language capacity.

“I hope this bill will be considered as part of the reauthorization of ESEA,” said Tony Jackson, vice president at Asia Society.

The Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) is a Congressional statute that provides federal funding for American elementary and secondary schools. Originally enacted in 1965, ESEA is reauthorized every five years. Congress is currently preparing the next reauthorization, expected in 2011. You can take action here in support of H.R. 6036.

And U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D, Calif. writes recently on The Hill’s Congress Blog, in support of HR 3753, the PRIDE Act (Providing Resouces to Improve Dual-language Education), currently in committee along with H.R. 6036.

Chu, a co-sponsor of the bill, is  a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, which is reviewing both bills, and serves on the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.  The daughter of Chinese immigrants and the first Chinese American woman to serve in the United States Congress, she also plans to introduce yet another language bill called the Global Languages Early Education (GLEE) Act in the near future to focus funds on early education, which studies conclude is the best path to fluency.

In California, SB 930, (Ducheny), which awaits the governor’s signature, would provide for the scores of English language learners who take the California Standards Test (STAR test) in their primary language to be included in their school’s progress assessment.

Presently students may take the test in their primary language, but the scores in that language (usually Spanish) are not included at all in the accountability system known as  API, a school’s Academic Performance Index or in the calculation of AYP, the measure of schools’ Adequate Yearly Progress, as assessed in accordance with the No Child Left Behind law.

Former English learners who have been reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (R-FEP) are not currently permitted to take the assessment in their native language, though it may be their stronger language for testing. In these cases the tests reflect neither an accurate assessment of what the student knows nor of their English language skills since no accommodations are made to control for linguistic complexities that may affect even “former” English language learners in understanding the test questions, nor is the test designed to measure English language acquisition.

A future assessment or accountability system without research-based accommodations to demonstrate validity, reliability and accurate results of what English learners know and can do would continue to provide a flawed system because teachers and schools (especially schools with significant numbers of English learners) must make education decisions based on data that inaccurately measures the academic performance of these students.

The STAR program will be up for reauthorization in 2013 according to California’s education code, and the emphasis on improved academic achievement of all students, including English learners, continues to be a priority of the federal government and thus every state. It is critical that California reauthorize the program with adjustments to its accountability and assessment system so that the scores of English language learners and the APIs and AYPs of entire schools and school districts present an accurate reflection of students’ academic capabilities regardless of language.

You can read more about SB 930 and follow the links to get involved here thanks to our friends at www.mulitlingualmania.com.

This is just a smattering of important legislation under consideration right now.  I have made no attempts to be comprehensive in my search for what’s going on, but I’d love to hear about things that may be happening in your city, state, or school district.  Please leave comments below.

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