California Adopts ‘Historic’ English Learner Roadmap

Today, the California State Board of Education unanimously adopted a revolutionary “English Learner Roadmap” to help California’s more than 1,000 local school districts welcome, understand, and educate the diverse population of students who are learning English.

California has about 1.4 million students—one of every four public school students statewide—classified as English Learners. The Roadmap is the first new language policy adopted in nearly 20 years, removes outdated barriers to bilingual and multilingual instruction, and will help schools meet updated state and federal education laws and requirements.

“This is a terrific step forward to help students in the wonderfully diverse state of California,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “The road map will guide teachers and school districts all across California as they help students on their way to success in 21st century careers and college.”

As stated in the approved Board Item,

“This policy is intended to assist the California Department of Education in providing guidance to local educational agencies (LEAs) in welcoming, understanding, and educating the diverse population of students who are English learners attending California public schools. Many English learners represent the newest members of our society (including recently arrived immigrants and children of immigrants) who bring a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds and come from families with rich social and linguistic experiences. They also bring skills in their primary languages that contribute enormously to the state’s economic and social strengths as a talented multilingual and multicultural population.”

The next step for the state is to develop guidance materials and resources for implementation of the policy that will be web-based and include successful practices that district will contribute and be able share statewide.

State Board President Michael W. Kirst said passage of the roadmap marks both an end and a beginning. “With this vote, the state puts regressive policies in our past and embarks on a new, inclusive path toward ensuring California’s promise of college and career readiness for all students is fulfilled.”

California voters last year overwhelmingly approved Proposition 58, which removed a number of legal barriers to bilingual learning. The measure will ensure that all students receive the highest quality education, master the English language, and access high-quality and innovative language programs.

Past restrictions date back to 1998, when Proposition 227 passed and placed nearly all English Learner students in English-only classrooms.

Demand for bilingual and multilingual instruction has been growing as proficiency in more than one language helps students compete for college admissions and jobs. For example, high school seniors who demonstrated dual language skills can earn a gold “Seal of Biliteracy” on their diplomas. In the Class of 2016, more than 40,000 students earned the seal, four time the number when the state-authorized program started in 2010.

The English Learner Roadmap will also help California schools comply with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), both of which require specific assistance so English Learners can meet the same academic standards as other students.

The Roadmap started as a recommendation of Torlakson’s “Blueprint for Great Schools Version 2.0” in 2015. The California Department of Education, with support from the Sobrato Family Foundation and the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation, received advice on the recommended policy from over 370 educators during three public meetings. The Roadmap will be available online.

Laurie Olsen, Co-Chair of the work group that developed the EL Roadmap, researcher and EL expert, concluded her remarks to the State Board of Education members saying,

“I want to take a moment to mark what I believe is a historic moment.  It is a turning away from what has been an English-Only and deficit oriented approach to educating English Learners, a turn away from watered down and narrowed curriculum and from marginalizing English Learners.  But the Roadmap is not just about ending an era.  It is also about breaking new ground and setting us on the road towards asset-based schooling that embraces the language and cultures of our students and towards providing solidly research-based, coherent and comprehensive programs for the 1.3 million English Learners in our schools.   And in so doing, our California roadmap will also offer a vision, a beacon and an example to the rest of the nation about what it means to honor equity, ensure meaningful access and embrace our wonderfully diverse population.”

For information on the English Learner Road Map and updates on resources and guidance documents as they are developed go to: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/rm/

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