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Illinois Schools Roll Out Bilingual Education in Preschool

Educators in Illinois are wrestling with what a strong bilingual education should look like in implementing the state's new mandate to provide bilingual education in preschool. I write about how Chicago Public Schools is carrying out the requirement in an article just published by Education Week.

The state board plans to clear up some of the confusion over how children can best be instructed in two languages by issuing guidance for not only pre-K bilingual education but also for K-12 bilingual education, Darren Reisberg, the deputy superintendent and general counsel for the state board, told me in an interview.

The biggest challenge, Chicago administrators say, will be to meet a deadline that by July 2014, all preschool teachers providing bilingual education must have certification in that area.

One issue I didn't discuss in the story is how preschoolers will be identified as English-language learners in Illinois. When the state board of education approved rules last summer to spell out policy for identifying and serving English-language learners in public preschools, it backed down from its earlier position that the youngsters must be given a test on their English proficiency.

Barbara T. Bowman, the chief early-childhood-education officer for the Chicago district and a co-founder of the Erikson Institute, a Chicago-based graduate school specializing in child development, pushed against any requirement for a standardized test to be used for assessing English proficiency. She argued that 3- and 4-year-olds sometimes don't cooperate with such tests, making them invalid in determining their English skills. When I interviewed her in Chicago this month, she told me, "We think it's more reliable to rely on parent and teacher judgment than a test."

Reisberg told me: "The board and state superintendent felt very uncomfortable after doing a bit of research ourselves in prescribing anything specific because the area is so novel."

He added that the procedures a school district uses to assess English proficiency may include "either established screening instruments or other procedures as long as they are research-based."

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