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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Immigrant parents aren’t keen on bilingual ed

Mural by students at Broadway Elementary School in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Unified is tripling the number of dual-immersion bilingual programs, but there’s a catch, reports Kyle Stokes for KPCC. Worried that their children won’t learn English, most immigrant parents are rejecting bilingual education. Only six percent of the district’s 150,000 English Learners have enrolled in a dual-language program.

In dual language programs, students spend at least half – if not most – of their day learning in a languages ranging from Spanish, Mandarin or even Armenian. Each dual language classroom features a mix of native English speakers with students who speak the “target language” proficiently. The expansion is driven by research suggesting there could be a huge upside for English learners: dual language instruction has the potential to help this needy population deepen their native language abilities while — all at the same time — becoming proficient in English and growing other academic skills.

Last year, California voters passed Proposition 58, which repealed limits on bilingual education. “As many as 137 dual language programs will be up and running district-wide next year, up from 42 six years ago,” reports Stokes.

Dual-immersion students learn English, said Hilda Maldonado, who runs L.A. Unified’s Multilingual and Multicultural Education Division. In addition, “you’re going to learn your content areas in a language that you understand, so you don’t fall behind.”

Educated, English-speaking parents are enthusiastic about dual immersion. Some fear they’ll crowd out English Learners, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.

The dual-immersion model appear to be far more effective than old-style bilingual education, which often relied on bilingual aides rather than teachers. To quote myself, “usually a boutique program, dual immersion can’t rely on unqualified aides because the middle-class parents won’t stand for it. They also won’t accept a dumbed-down curriculum, the other besetting sin of the old bilingual model.”

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