English Learners

Los Angeles Unified Expands Dual-Language, Bilingual Programs

By Corey Mitchell — August 18, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Los Angeles Unified School District is redoubling its commitment to language immersion and bilingual education, starting with the addition of nine dual-language programs this school year.

The expansion is part of an effort to teach more children in the nation’s second-largest school system to read and write, not just speak, in multiple languages.

“In the workplace of tomorrow, expectations for speaking and understanding multiple languages will continue to grow. Particularly in cities like Los Angeles, multilingualism will no longer be simply a good skill to have but instead it will become a prerequisite for the globally flattened world,” first-year Superintendent Michelle King said during her ‘state of the district’ address this month.

“My expectation is that we will increase the number of graduates who are bilingual and biliterate so that all our students are prepared for the diverse workforce, and the world they will enter,” King said.

The expansion and ambition would seem a natural fit for L.A. Unified, where nearly one in every four students is an English-language learner. The district has more than 140,000 ELLs, more than all but five states.

L.A. Unified now has 65 dual-language programs, marking a 25 percent increase over the past three years, EdSource reports. The piece also points out that growth has exploded statewide, with the number of dual-language programs quadrupling over the past decade.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that adding the dual-language immersion schools is part of a broader effort to stem enrollment loss in L.A. Unified, which has seen its enrollment drop 15 percent since the 2009-10 school year due to the growth in charter school enrollment and declining immigration.

With the language-immersion expansion in L.A. Unified, the district now has programs in Arabic, French, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish—and now Armenian, thanks in part to parent demand.

The vast majority of California’s, and L.A. Unified’s, dual-language-immersion programs are Spanish-based, but districts there and elsewhere are adding options for families who want to preserve and pass on their native languages.

“The identity and family connection that language brings is important for us to recognize,” said Hilda Maldonado, the executive director of the district’s multilingual and multicultural education department.

But the district and state also have mixed records when it comes to support of dual-language and bilingual programs, especially as it concerns English-learners.

The growth in dual-language programs in L.A. Unified and California comes despite Proposition 227, a statewide measure approved by voters in 1998 initiative that nearly dismantled bilingual education in California. But that all could change soon. Proposition 58, which is on the statewide ballot in California this November, seeks to overturn key components of Proposition 227.

The longer-term impact of Proposition 227 can be seen in a comparison of the sheer number of dual-language and bilingual programs in L.A. Unified and New York, the nation’s largest school district.

The 1.1-million student New York City schools has nearly twice the enrollment of L.A. Unified, but more than five times as many dual-language and bilingual programs. L.A. Unified also has a higher proportion of overall of ELLs than NYC.

The total number of programs in New York has expanded to more than 500 since Chancellor Carmen Farina announced an aggressive expansion program nearly two years ago. By comparison, L.A. Unified has about 90 dual-language and bilingual programs, King said in her ‘state of the district’ address.

Both districts have at least 140,000 English-learners, but L.A. Unified has a higher overall propotions of ELLs. Roughly 23 percent of students in the district are English-learners, compared to just about 15 percent in New York City.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.