Prop. 58 will maximize potential of English language learners and increase opportunities for bilingual education
Guest contributor | November 7, 2016
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By Kelly Gonez
When you are a teacher with a student who is engaging and clearly capable of big things, it breaks your heart to see an obvious barrier to success.
One of my students, I’ll call him Julian, faced this kind of challenge. He was the kind of student who makes you really appreciate being a teacher. Yet, in every class, Julian struggled. Not because of his intelligence or work ethic, but because all classes were conducted entirely in English and he was still learning the language.
Julian isn’t alone. Every day, more than 165,000 students in Los Angeles face these same barriers. A quarter of our students are learning English as a second language, and they face a long path to fluency. Yet even as we have expanded public school choices for students to include career academies and all-girls schools, we are still faced with significant barriers to prevent us from teaching English language learners in a bilingual environment.
Proposition 58 is a chance for voters to open our schools up to the option of bilingual education, which has clearly demonstrated that it is extraordinarily helpful for students who are learning English and native English speakers alike.
California is known for its vibrant diversity, accepting people of all cultures and ethnicities. Yet in 1998, our state voted to bar bilingual education, despite scant evidence to support the idea that forcing students into English-only programs will help them gain language proficiency. As of the 2015-2016 school year, just 11 percent of Los Angeles students learning English showed enough progress to be reclassified as proficient.
And beyond academics, the pressure to learn every subject in English can easily turn school from a place of learning and growth to a place of stress and anxiety. Instead of helping students overcome this challenge, Proposition 227 has stunted opportunity.
Proposition 58 seeks to overturn this flaw in the system and build upon the natural assets of English language learners – their home language and culture – as the foundation for their education, rather than treating it as a deficit.
That’s why I am supporting Proposition 58, and encouraging Los Angeles to open up new opportunities for our English language learners and for native English speakers, as research has shown that dual-language education supports both groups of students. Voting yes on Proposition 58 is just the first step to take down language barriers that hold students back, but it is an important step.
Bilingualism and biliteracy are assets, and it is time our education system recognized this. Vote yes on Proposition 58 and open doors for every child, no matter their home language.
Kelly Gonez is an LAUSD middle school science teacher and candidate for LAUSD Board District 6.