California has a bold goal it's trying to accomplish by 2030: have half of all kindergarten through 12th grade students participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages.
Through the Global California 2030 initiative launched in 2018 by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state also wants three out of four students to be proficient in two or more languages, earning them a State Seal of Biliteracy, by 2040. Not to mention double the number of bilingual teachers and quadruple the number of dual-language immersion programs by 2030.
It's quite a change from a little over 20 years ago when Proposition 227 — which essentially eliminated "bilingual" classes in most cases — was passed. It required state public schools to teach limited English proficient students in special classes taught nearly all in English. Because very few bilingual classes were available, the number of bilingual teaching credentials declined, explained Rocio Munoz, coordinator of English language learners at the Bakersfield City School District.
Proposition 58 in 2016 repealed those bilingual education restrictions.
Meeting the goals of the initiative appears to be a lot to accomplish, but local districts seem motivated to expose their students to several benefits multilingualism brings.
More than 7,000 BCSD students speak a language other than English, according to Munoz. To accommodate the growing number of students learning English and those interested in learning another language, the district offers language programs and language acquisition programs.
Language programs are designed for students who are not English learners and want to be exposed to another language. Seven school sites offer an after school program where twice a week students from various grade levels come together to practice writing and vocabulary in another language, mainly Spanish. Downtown Elementary also offers French.
In contrast, language acquisition programs — known as dual-language immersion programs — are designed for English learners and include English language development.
"When a parent enrolls a student, they complete a home language survey and they’re asked four questions," Munoz said. Some of those questions include what language does the child use with adults and what language is spoken at home. Based on the responses, "that determines if we need to support the child in the classroom with language support. If they come in not speaking English, they’re going to need extra help."
The district has a 90/10 model for this program, referring to the amount of language they’re exposed to in the second language they're acquiring. For example, if a kindergarten student speaks Spanish at home but wants to learn English, their class would first be in 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English. As they move on to first grade, the split changes to 80 percent Spanish and 20 percent English. By around fifth grade, Munoz said half of the class is in Spanish while the other half is in English.
The dual-language immersion program is offered at Harries and Voorhies elementary schools and in certain subjects at Stiern Middle School.
A similar immersion program will launch in the 2021-2022 school year in the Greenfield Union School District. The focus will be on English language learners in kindergarten, explained Lucas Hogue, assistant superintendent of personnel.
Children enrolled in kindergarten will also see their class split between 90 percent Spanish and 10 percent English until, as they progress through the program, it is 50 percent in both languages.
It will be available at two schools, which have yet to be determined, and district officials are hoping for about 50 students enrolled at each site. In 2019, there were around 1,000 English learners in the district, according to California Dashboard data.
"We believe it is very important for students to be literate in more than one language so that they can compete at an international level," Hogue said.
Junior high schools give native English speakers an opportunity to begin acquiring a second language, mainly Spanish, during a class period, which they can continue in high school.
If they choose to continue in high school, students have the possibility of earning the State Seal of Biliteracy when they graduate.
This program began at the state level in 2012, and the Kern High School District was one of the first districts in California to implement it. In 2012, 156 KHSD students achieved the distinction, while in 2018, 815 students received the State Seal of Biliteracy, according to the district, for completing Spanish, French or Chinese coursework. All 18 of the district's comprehensive campuses are participating in the program.
To be eligible for a State Seal of Biliteracy, a student must complete all English Language Arts requirements with an overall GPA of 2.0 or higher and pass a state or local English language standards test proving proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English. If the student's primary language is other than English, they must attain proficiency level on the California English Language Development Test and meet all criteria listed above.
Districts are optimistic they'll meet the state's goals and hope even more foreign language opportunities will be available to their students because, Munoz believes, the benefits can serve them for years.
"We’re seeing through academics and state assessments that they’re performing well and outperforming (other students) at times and meeting the Common Core State Standards," she said. "As they progress in their future years, if they want to move or work in another country, they have the language acquisition to support them through that."