California aims to be a language leader in the classroom

 Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Armenian, Mandarin and are just some of the languages taught in California schools. A new initiative announced last week by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Global California 2030, aims to expand the teaching and learning of world languages and the number of students proficient in more than one language over the next 12 years — thus creating a more globally prepared workforce. According to the California Department of Education, more than 40 percent of K-12 students in the state already speak at least two languages, and more than 72 languages are spoken in its schools, a resource that Global California will build on.

“As the world comes closer together, fluency in another language opens up opportunities for people to succeed economically and to take part in diverse cultural activities,” Torlakson said in a statement.

By 2030, Torlakson’s plan calls for half of all K-12 students to be enrolled in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages, tripling the number of students who receive the State Seal of Biliteracy; and quadrupling the number of dual-language immersion programs. The initiative builds on the California English Learner Roadmap and Proposition 58 — a measure approved by voters in 2016 to allow schools to create dual-language immersion programs.

Dual-language instruction is an overall term used to describe a range of programs that provide academic instruction in both English and the home language of English learners. Dual-language immersion programs integrate EL and native English-speaking students in a classroom where the non-English language is used for a significant portion of instruction.

Research shows there are significant academic benefits to dual-language instruction. The positive impact on learning for all students includes enhanced problem-solving skills, memory, reading abilities and math and science reasoning. There are also the benefits of learning about other cultures and nations as the world becomes more interconnected. In addition, for English learners, these programs have been shown to successfully close achievement gaps.

But to reach Torlakson’s 2030 target there will be challenges. Chief among these are teaching shortages because few new bilingual teachers were minted during the 20 years when California education policy was less supportive of dual language programs and many who formerly had this preparation left the field or their skills have become rusty given the lack of opportunity to teach in dual language programs. Classroom resources such as textbooks and other materials will also need to be developed. The CDE website, for example, shows approved instructional materials that date back more than a decade.

For now, Global California 2030 calls for working with the Legislature to provide additional funding for programs and encouraging school districts to invest in professional development for teachers. To help with this, the plan also hopes to grow the number of teachers by increasing the number of bilingual teacher training programs from 30, as of 2013, to 100 by 2030.