It wasn’t too long ago that bilingual education was essentially banned from the classroom in California thanks to Proposition 227. Flash forward 15 years, and you’ll find that bilingual education is now the norm — well, for one city.
As reported in SFGate, San Francisco has quickly become the model for bilingual education over the last decade. Nearly 30 percent of the city’s English language learners are enrolled in bilingual education programs, with promising results. Recent studies by Stanford University show that these students are equally as proficient in their academics as ELL students enrolled in English-only programs.
These kinds of results clearly show that supporting a student’s native language is not a “bad” thing in the least. Through bilingual programs, these students get the support they need to begin learning, while also building on their English language skills at a comfortable pace.
Not all school districts would agree, however. Most cities aren’t as diverse as San Francisco, and don’t have as high of a need to support bilingual education and spend money building up resources. Some school administrations across the country have even tried “banning” students from speaking their native language altogether.
Thankfully, the trend in many school districts now is to provide a bilingual or language-immersion education option if the resources are available, and for good reason. Speaking another language in the classroom can only help students, and even lessen the feeling of alienation ELL learners may feel with academic subjects.
As Care2 writer Steve Williams notes, there are a number of reasons why learning a second, third, or even fourth language can improve the quality of your life. Students enrolled in immersion programs, for example, become proficient in two languages at the same time. This skill can be transferred into the professional world further down the road, and if students continue their courses, they’ll be at an advantage to their peers. Additionally, bilingualism can help brain growth, memory and multitasking because of the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the new language.
Currently, San Francisco Unified School District has more than 5,000 students enrolled in bilingual programs. The most popular languages include English and Cantonese, Spanish, Mandarin and Korean. Whether they start off as ELL students or English-only, if enrolled by kindergarten, these students become proficient in their new language by middle school.
Yet, despite these benefits, there just isn’t enough support or interest for bilingual education to become the norm across the state. There are currently no efforts to rescind Prop. 227, although school districts have more flexibility than before the bill first passed. Even so, San Francisco can remain a model for what an ideal learning environment could be, and set an example for how bilingualism can be beneficial to all.
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