English Language learning in MA

Students Learning the English Language in Massachusetts Will Have More Options to Master English

Massachusetts school districts receive more flexibility as they are now able to tailor programs for English Language Learners. On November 22, 2017, the governor of Massachusetts signed the Bill H.4032, ”An Act relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids” (LOOK). This bill enables school districts to choose a research-based teaching method other than Sheltered English Immersion to help them develop their English language skills, after review and approval by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Under the law, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will also develop “seals of bi-literacy” for high school diplomas to recognize students who are proficient in English and another language.

Dr. Mary Cazabon, President of EDR comments on passing the bill by Massachusetts:

It is a time to celebrate the passage of the LOOK bill that allows English Language Learners (ELLs) to learn academic subjects in their native language as well as in English. Currently, there are more than 90,000 students in the Commonwealth who are not fluent in English.  What does LOOK mean for our local school districts and schools? It means that they will now have more researched-based bilingual options to educate their ELLs or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) students. Unfortunately since 2002, most CLD students (except for those allowed into dual language programs through waivers) have been deprived of their right to utilize the linguistic strengths they once possessed in their native languages to realize their academic potential in both English and their native language. In other words, for these students the passage of LOOK has come too late, and for them, it has been 15 years of language loss. Skutnabb-Kangas (2008) asserts that human rights and language policy are intertwined and inexorably linked. By depriving a generation of our CLD students of schooling options in their native language, we have failed them. We now have the chance to do it right.

It is time to provide educational stakeholders with ways to break down the many barriers that inhibit delivery of effective instruction to our CLD students. With 35 years plus in the field of education of ELLs as a teacher, district administrator of programs, evaluator/researcher, and as a project director for in-service teacher training to serve ELLs in the content areas of science and social studies/history at the university level, I would identify one of the most critical needs for schools and districts is to provide appropriate linguistically and culturally responsive professional development to all educators that will enable them to meet the needs of their CLD students. A word of caution is for districts in MA to choose their options well, deliver effective professional development to all stakeholders, and ensure implementation fidelity to chosen model.

EDR works to enhance educational and professional opportunities for the low-income immigrant population through education and views the newly adopted state bill as a step forward toward meeting the educational needs of English learners in Massachusetts schools.