How can being bilingual be an asset for white students and a deficit for immigrants?*

With one tweet, I was linked to perhaps the most on-point question of our time and to information about a dual-language program right here in Massachusetts, in the Mendon-Upton Regional School District:


The link embedded above in Tracy's tweet will still take you to The Hechinger Report article. The Mendon-Upton program (and another one highlighted, from Texas) aims to make all students in the class fully bilingual. The article points out that the Texas program would be illegal in Massachusetts. And, while bilingual education programs aren't part of the ELL construct in the Commonwealth, such strength-based approaches guarantee students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) access to educational opportunities. These programs allow students to acquire a full command of the English language and employ their native languages to help them master challenging academic standards in all subject areas.

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, as I did until age 10, I noted many wonderful accents in the parents and grandparents of friends, including my own grandparents, who were immigrants from Turkish Armenia, Italy, Poland, or Germany. All of the children I knew spoke English, though I now realize it may not have been their first language.

More than 35% of people whose first language is not English live in my Town today — true in varying degrees of many cities and Towns across the Commonwealth — and many are limited English proficient. It's extremely difficult for children to do well in school who do not understand what their teachers are explaining. Language instructional programs, especially in public schools, should also involve parents in planning, implementation, and evaluation.

It's time to amend the law that came about as the result of an initiative petition that passed in 2002, so that we can do better for our multi-lingual students. Strengthening this area is one key to closing gaps in proficiency.

*Title of an article in The Hechinger Report, and subject of this post.