English Learners

Massachusetts Law Paves the Way for More Bilingual Education

By Corey Mitchell — November 27, 2017 2 min read
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New legislation has paved the way to allow Massachusetts schools to teach English-language learners in their native language while they learn English.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the legislation that effectively overturns the state’s 15-year-old law that eliminated bilingual education from most public schools.

The new law, passed by state lawmakers last week, aims to offer school systems and parents flexibility to choose programs that best suit the needs of their students.

Massachusetts is the latest domino to fall in a push to repeal English-only immersion education laws.

Last November, California voters repealed the state’s English-only instruction law, allowing public schools across more power to operate bilingual and dual-language programs.

With the passage of the Massachusetts law, Arizona is now the only state with English-only immersion education mandates written into law, but the state offers schools more choices. Districts can cut the time some English-language learners spend in a mandatory, four-hour block of English-language instruction, depending on a student’s grade level and English proficiency.

Growing ELL Population

The change in Massachusetts comes amid unprecedented growth in the state’s English-language learner population, which has doubled since 2000, the Bay State Banner reports. Now more than 90,000 Massachusetts students are classified as English language learners, representing almost 10 percent of the state’s public school enrollment.

Under the new law, students who achieve high levels of proficiency in English and one or more foreign languages would also qualify for the state’s new seal of biliteracy, which honors students who are literate in two or more languages. Now, nearly 30 states offer the special recognition.

The Boston Globe reports that, for decades, several school districts have run programs where students are taught in English and another language. The English-only law included a provision that allowed those kinds of dual-language programs to continue.

That law also allowed school systems and parents to run transitional bilingual education programs, which provides students with academic content in their native language while they learn English. But the Globe reports that few districts did so because it required a “cumbersome waiver process to get the programs running.” The new law eliminates that waiver process.

Schools, however, retain the right to provide sheltered English instruction, programs where English-language-learner students are taught in stand-alone classrooms.

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