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In 20 years, California wants 75% of students to be proficient in at least two languages

July 19, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 8.01.47 AMJust over 40% of California’s students speak a language other than English at home.

You can think of that two ways — 41% of the state’s students need to learn English. Or, 59% of the state’s students need to get cracking to learn a second language.

As Gregg Roberts, of the American Councils for International Education, says, “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.”

California is coming around to that thinking. In 2018 the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction launched Global California 2030, with the goal that by 2030, all K–12 students participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages. By 2040, the goal is for three out of four students to be proficient in two or more languages, earning them a State Seal of Biliteracy.

According to the Global California 2030 mission;  “By 2030, we want half of all K–12 students to participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages, either through a class, a program, or an experience. By 2040, we want three out of four students to be proficient in two or more languages, earning them a State Seal of Biliteracy.”

Goals include:

  • By 2030, half of all K–12 students participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages, either through a class, a program, or an experience.
  • The number of students who receive the State Seal of Biliteracy, which is nationally recognized for college admissions and career opportunities, more than triples from 46,952 in 2017 to more than 150,000 in 2030. By 2040, three out of four graduating seniors earn the Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal is earned by demonstrating proficiency in a language in addition to English.
  • The number of dual immersion programs that teach languages besides English quadruples from about 400 in 2017 to 1,600 in 2030.
  • The number of new bilingual teachers authorized in world language classes more than doubles from 2017 to 2030.

The initiative came after state voters’ overwhelming repealed restrictions on bilingual education in California that had been enacted by the notorious  Proposition 227 in 1998. It took 18 years, but in 2016 Proposition 58 passed by 73%.

Prop 227 required students be taught in an English-only environment, where the student was taught English by a teacher who only speaks English. English Language Learners who were in separate classes had to be placed in regular classes and bilingual programs were ended.

Immersion programs were in a way a work-around, because they benefited both English-speaking and non-English-speaking students. They were allowed if schools provided abundant information to parents that their children were not being educated entirely in English. Of course, that’s what the parents wanted.

California’s K-12 system is by far the biggest and most diverse in the nation, with 6.2 million students, 40 percent of whom come to school with knowledge and experience in at least two languages.

“Studies have found that speaking two or more languages has many benefits. It strengthens memory and cognitive processes, improves speakers’ ability in their first language, expands cultural knowledge and understanding, builds self-confidence, and even delays the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” state Department of Education officials wrote in the initiative.

Whether the state will achieve its goals, it’s a long way from 1998, when the cry of “English only!” became state law.

My children’s opportunities for work and advanced study have been turbocharged by their ability to speak Mandarin (from California immersion programs) and Spanish (from four years of high school Spanish.) Speaking English is necessary. Speaking one or two languages on top of that is a game-changer.

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