Feb. 14, 2020
California currently has the country’s largest number of students learning English. Nearly sixty percent of children aged 0 to 5 throughout the state are Dual Language Learners (DLLs), meaning that they are learning English while also developing proficiency in their home language.
Yet, for almost 20 years, California was an English-only education state thanks to Proposition 227, a ballot measure that mandated English immersion for students learning English in the state’s public K-12 schools. Though the law did not directly affect the work of early education programs, it nevertheless had big implications for DLLs. “Because of the [legislation], many parents, educators and others have ideas about bilingualism that are not in alignment with the latest research, and they don’t know the latest information about the importance of having a foundation in a home language to reap the benefits of bilingualism,” says Carolynne Crolotte, senior policy analyst at Early Edge California, an advocacy organization that promotes accessible and high-quality early childhood education.
In 2016, California voters repealed Proposition 227, opening the door to better learning opportunities for the state’s DLLs. Now, Early Edge California is leading the way to promote high-quality early learning opportunities for DLLs throughout the state. One of the organization’s leading priorities is supporting the needs of DLLs by countering misinformation about bilingual education programs, increasing training for teachers on effective DLL instructional strategies, and advocating for dual language programs that allow students to become bilingual and biliterate.
Recently, Early Edge published a video series for parents and lawmakers that highlights the benefits of bilingual early education programs as a way to advocate for their expansion across California. Below are some of the videos’ key takeaways:
Bilingual Education has Long-Lasting Academic, Cognitive, and Developmental Benefits
Dual language education programs offer wide-ranging benefits to DLLs. These programs help DLLs build a proficient foundation in their home language, which assists them in their pursuit of English. Additionally, scientific studies have repeatedly shown that learning two languages has cognitive and developmental benefits, which may help DLLs successfully progress through the PreK-12 system. For instance, bilingual students show greater empathy and ability to control their emotions than monolingual students. Young DLLs also appear to have more cognitive flexibility including increased ability to focus and problem solve. Additionally, research suggests DLL students perform as well, if not better than, native English speakers on measures of social-emotional development.
Bilingual Professionals are In Demand
As the U.S.population changes and the global economy expands, employers are increasingly looking to hire bilingual individuals who bring a global perspective to the table and can cater to a broader and more linguistically diverse clientele. In turn, bilingual professionals can expect to receive financial benefits for speaking a second language. Indeed, one study estimated that bilingualism could equate to additional earnings of $51,000 to $128,000 over a 40-year period (depending on the 2nd language spoken and college degree attainment). And a more recent study suggests that bilingualism is associated with an additional $3,292 in earnings per year at the beginning of one’s career, even after controlling for factors such as educational attainment and parental socioeconomic status.
In addition to higher wages, bilingual professionals might also have access to more job opportunities across industries. A 2014 study surveyed 300 employers from various industries and found that a majority preferred hiring bilingual staff—particularly in the areas of management services, retail, construction and health care. Being bilingual in California is an especially in-demand skill. In fact, fifteen of the 25 industries analyzed in the study had bilingual job openings for applicants with less than a Bachelor’s degree. The same study claims that California accounted for 19.4 percent of the nation’s total bilingual job postings.
More Training, Better Pay, and Professional Development is needed for Teachers of DLLs
DLLs have unique linguistic and academic needs that require targeted and specific strategies. Yet, few ECE teachers in California (and nationally) receive training on how to effectively serve DLLs. California does not require training in teaching DLLs and there is no guarantee that money will be allocated to early education professional development each year. More professional development is needed to ensure all DLLs have access to educators who view bilingualism as a strength and who are prepared to deploy strategies that support DLLs’ literacy and language development.
In 2018, due to advocacy from organizations such as Early Edge, California legislators made a significant one-time $5 million investment in training early education teachers to work with DLLs. The DLL professional development grant provided six organizations with funds to train ECE teachers to work with DLLs. These projects vary from strengthening and expanding the current DLL-specific training for early education teachers in California, including online options, increasing DLL coursework in higher education programs, and creating a professional development model that can be used for teachers serving DLLs.
While these grants are a good start, they are not enough. Funding for DLL professional development runs out in June, and the state’s next potential funding source, the Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, will not be rolled out until October 2020. “Ideally, we would have money in this year’s budget for that work” said Crolotte.
With the repeal of Proposition 227 and Gavin Newsom’s increased focus on early education, it is an ideal time to help California families, educators, and legislators better understand the immense and long-lasting social and academic benefits of bilingual education for the state’s DLLs.