At last month’s National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) annual conference in Portland, Oregon, US secretary for education Miguel Cardona laid out plans to boost multilingual education across the country, including the reallocation of funds to bolster dual language programs and the training of dual language educators.
Cardona inspired the crowd of thousands of educators with his rhetoric:
“Why is it that in 2023, in many school systems in our country, we treat our English learners as students with deficits—rather than assets in a globally competitive world? It makes no sense! It defies what other multilingual countries already understand. It defies our historical reality as a nation born of immigrants.
“So today, reconozcamos que: bilingualism and biculturalism is a superpower—and we at the Department of Education will work to help our students become multilingual. Let’s put to bed, once and for all, the notion that multilingualism is just a bonus—or worse, a deficit.
“Let’s build a new era of multilingualism in America—an era where our young people can lead thriving lives and careers with their knowledge of languages from Mandarin to French, Spanish to Japanese. And let’s foster a new multilingual generation of Americans—strengthened in their identities, supported in their education, prepared to lead in our country and around the world.
“To all of our students in America: ¡Ya es tiempo de aprender otro idioma!”
The secretary of education continued by outlining some concrete funding and support for multilingual education:
“The research makes clear: the academic effects of these programs is strong, both for English learners and for native English speakers. A recent study here in Portland shows that students enrolled in a dual language program scored seven months ahead in reading in grade five and nine months ahead in reading in grade eight.
“We just secured $890 million in yearly funding under Title III that can help states support their English learners through their Language Instructional Educational Programs. That’s an increase of $93 million since the beginning of the Biden–Harris Administration. And we’ll be pushing for more funding soon—so stay tuned.
“I’m announcing today that I have proposed to reorganize the Title III program from the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education back into the Office of English Language Acquisition. I know this will strengthen the administration, capacity, and technical assistance of the Title III formula, which you and all of our students deserve. We need to push harder to ensure federal dollars are being used for programs that work. Not only must we support good programming, we need to hold states accountable for bad programming.
“Another strategy we will focus on at the US Department of Education includes making sure we have a lot more high-quality bilingual and multilingual educators—educators like you. That starts with quality training, recruiting, and retaining educators—including young people of color. I don’t have to tell you that we are at the doorstep of a teacher-shortage crisis in our country. This is even more palpable in hard-to-fill areas like bilingual education.
“That’s why, last month, we announced our first-ever grants— totaling over $18 million—under the Augustus Hawkins program to increase high-quality teacher-preparation programs for teachers of color and multilingual teachers, who are uniquely situated to reach our diverse student population. And every single one of those grantees incorporated a priority to produce more multilingual and bilingual teachers into their plans for these funds.”
Cardona’s speech, which reiterated some aspects of the department’s recently announced Raise the Bar initiative, was met with a standing ovation, and the secretary followed it up the following week by reading a Spanish-language book to students in a Spanish/English dual language program in Washington, DC, on National Read across America Day.