In Partnership with 74

Prop. 58 can help eliminate stigma around bilingual education

Guest contributor | October 20, 2016

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

studentsBy Christina Kim

More than twenty years ago I was classified as an English learner. I spent my first few elementary school years in a classroom not learning much or improving my ability to communicate in English. Then, Californians voted in favor of an array of anti-immigrant propositions, including Proposition 227, which eliminated most bilingual education in our state.

As a student, this meant that my teachers then taught me in English-only classrooms that neither developed nor built upon my native language skills. While I did go on to learn English and even earn a second master’s degree at UCLA, my early educational experience led to lasting insecurities about my bilingualism that persisted for years. Now, as a teacher in LAUSD, I have the opportunity to change how we support students like me.

Proposition 227 did enormous damage to English learners, but this November, California voters can set English language learners — who comprise one-third of all students in Los Angeles and one-fifth of students in the state — on the path to success by voting for Proposition 58, which will allow languages other than English to be used in classroom instruction.

Proposition 227 has continued to create a stigma around using students’ native language in schools and forces them into English-only classrooms, even when a different instructional method would be more beneficial for them. I have watched too many students become linguistically isolated because they are afraid of making mistakes in English and do not feel comfortable communicating in their native language. When their native language abilities are ignored instead of celebrated, students can shut down and develop negative feelings about their language, their culture and even themselves.

The fact is that bilingualism is an asset that should be fostered, rather than frowned upon. Recent studies have shown that bilingual children reap several benefits from developing two languages, including becoming more flexible thinkers in the long run.

It is estimated that between 60 percent and 75 percent of the world is bilingual, yet in the United States, only 20 percent of people speak two or more languages. In an increasingly global society – not to mention global economy – we cannot afford to lag behind the many countries that already foster bilingualism in their schools. If we want to prepare our students to be successful when they graduate, Proposition 58 is an important step in the right direction.

Proposition 58 can help eliminate the current stigma around bilingual education and improve the way we approach teaching English learners. Studies show teachers of English learners often create less rigorous curriculum for these students. In addition, English learners are segregated into remedial courses across various districts because of a mistaken belief that they are slow learners. These actions, in turn, prevent English learners from accessing the core curriculum needed to graduate high school, thus closing the door to higher education for multitudes of students. Proposition 58 would allow teachers to use students’ native languages to help them access rich academic content, while still requiring students to become English proficient.

Families undoubtedly want their children to learn English, but often don’t understand that there are many possible approaches in addition to an English-only classroom. With Proposition 58, the state will remove bureaucratic barriers that have prevented districts from offering instructional supports and opportunities like dual-language immersion programs for English language learners and native speakers, which allow both to acquire a second language. With these unnecessary constraints removed, parents will have more opportunities to select the best setting for their children. This change will invite better parent engagement, which will, in turn, spur our district to provide better supports and professional development for teachers of English learners.

But perhaps most importantly, Proposition 58 will encourage the development of more culturally responsive instruction that celebrates students’ skills and builds upon them, rather than focusing solely on their language deficits. If students are validated and affirmed, they will do better in the classroom.

We can make sure that our students attend schools where multiculturalism is celebrated every day. Please join me in voting yes on Proposition 58.

Christina Kim is a school-based Targeted Student Population Coordinator in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a member of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles, a teacher-led education policy and advocacy nonprofit.

Read Next