EDITOR'S NOTE: To help American children be competitive in the global economy, Congresswoman Judy Chu will introduce a bill on Thursday in support of early bilingual education. The Global Languages Early Education Challenge Fund (GLEE) would authorize $100 million to provide low-income students with access to high-quality pre-K to 5th-grade education programs that promote school readiness and narrow the achievement gap through bilingualism.
Chu, a Democrat who represents East Los Angeles, where dual-language programs are increasingly popular, spoke with NAM reporter Vivian Po about how promoting early bilingual education on a national level would benefit both English learners and native English speakers.
Why is it important to push early bilingual education on a national level?
It is because Americans need to be competitive in this world and gain knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. We are becoming a global marketplace fueled with international businesses. [Yet] as a nation, we have fallen behind with regard to the number of people learning second languages. Twenty out of the 25 leading industrialized countries start teaching second languages from K to 5th grade; 21 of the 31 countries in the European Union require nine years of another language. In order to catch up with these countries, we have to promote bilingual education or dual-language education in preschool, when students have the best chance to learn those languages and sustain it through later grades. It would be something that benefits them for the rest of their lives.
Many people think that only urban areas, like Los Angeles and New York, have a large number of English learners. Actually, Midwestern and Southern states are also witnessing increasing numbers of English-learner students. In fact, it does not matter if they are English learners or not— every student can benefit from learning a foreign language because it can only open their options and increase their marketability.
How much does GLEE cost? Is it designed to support English learners?
The bill would authorize a fund of $100 million: 5 percent for planning; 15 percent to fund a research council of experts to guide comparative studies on teaching approaches, and the other 80 percent for implementation—supporting schools selected by the U.S. Secretary of Education in a competitive process.
The bill funds three bilingual instructional models: 1) a program that enables native English speakers to gain proficiency in another language; 2) a dual-language program that allows native English speakers and English learners to be in the same classroom and learn a second language without sacrificing their original language; 3) a program that allows English learners to gain proficiency in English. Any of these three models can be funded through this bill.
Why did you decide to introduce GLEE during a time of economic hardship and budget cuts?
We are at a critical junction. As we are discussing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization, now is the time to think how we want to reform our public education. Though No Child Left Behind has been renewed, many recognized it as an inadequate national education system, and it was very inadequate for treating the education of our English-learner students. A high-quality early education is necessary to help close the achievement gap. Moreover, early education offers one of the highest returns of any public investments—more than $7 in return for every dollar spent.
According to the GLEE concept paper, priority will be given to schools that partner with private or public entities to achieve a more efficient and high-quality program. What is your vision behind it?
There are so many opportunities already existing in the community that can be helpful. For instance, if you have a dual-language course in Chinese, organizations in the Chinese community will have many natives speakers that can come to the class. Not only that, I have visited many Chinese schools around the nation and I believe they can truly be part of the community partner model. I would like to see [a high level] of community involvement in the program, integrating community participation into the schools.
Many ethnic parents have concerns that early bilingual education might prevent their children from learning better English.
I have heard many stories from people of my age whose parents thought that it would be better for them to be immersed in English, and they felt unfortunate to miss out learning another language. In fact, I was one of those who ended up being immersed in English. My parents put me in a weekly Chinese school but it did not stick, and by the time I felt serious about learning Chinese, I was already in college.
Studies have clearly shown that bilingualism increases cognitive ability and allows children to think or talk about the same concept in different ways, which will also help them in other subjects, such as social studies and math. More parent education, such as inviting experts to present concrete studies to parents, would be good. We can also create easy-access websites where articles on bilingual education are consolidated in one place for parents to read.
On the other hand, there are many parents who are extremely excited about the idea. We know that because after bilingual classes were introduced in Los Angeles Unified School District, parents re-enrolled their kids back to the district.
Los Angeles is a pioneer in introducing early bilingual education. Can you share some of the outcomes you observed?
I just did a visit at a local school named Brooklyn Early Education in L.A. that has a strong Spanish dual-language program. The dual model allows students to go back and forth between Spanish and English, so that young kids never lose their ability in understand concepts in both languages. It was very inspirational, and what impressed me most was that the school is located right in the middle of a low-income neighborhood. It shows that bilingual education does not need to be in a wealthy neighborhood in order to be successful.
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