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Feds Urge Broad Support for Nation's Youngest Bilingual Learners

A newly issued policy statement from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health urges coordinated support from parents, early educators, state governments, and private organizations to address the needs of preschool-aged English-language learners.

The 32-page brief features policy recommendations to states and early-childhood programs, calling for collaboration to ensure that all early-childhood programs are welcoming and accessible to families of language-learners. It also calls for broader support for the early-childhood workforce and policy shifts to build the capacity to accommodate the nation's growing bilingual population. 

Federal data indicates that roughly one in five school-aged children speak a language other than English at home, a figure that has more than doubled in the past three decades.30-SR-ELL-Early-ELLs-Teacher-students-blog.jpg

"These home languages are an asset that should be valued, and research shows that supporting bilingualism from early ages can have wide-ranging benefits, from cognitive and social advantages early in life, to long-term employment opportunities and competitiveness in the workplace," Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a prepared statement.

The policy statement defines dual-language learners as "children who have a home language other than English and are learning two or more languages at the same timej, or learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language." The definition overlaps with the commonly used English-language learner.

Longitudinal data shows that dual-language learners in the United States, on average, trail their monolingual English-speaking peers in academic achievement. To close that gap, the federal policy statement provides resources and recommendations to the early-childhood field to ensure that early education programs are accessible to these children, and that these programs appropriately foster the learning and development of this large and growing group of bilingual children.

Head Start officials also released electronic toolkit for dual-language-learner educators, child care providers, and families that includes resource on supporting early childhood education.

We must proactively address the barriers presented here, invest in science that can further inform best practices, develop better assessment measures, interventions and curricula that are appropriate and effective for this growing population, and ultimately deliver a higher-quality of services to the millions of children who are DLLs and their families," part of the policy statement's conclusion reads. "Combined, these steps will help ensure that each child arrives at school prepared to excel, eager to learn, and ready to build a future workforce that is rich in diversity, heritage, cultural tradition, and language."

In addition to the federal resources released, several other organizations outlined their plans for English-learners in early-childhood education during meeting hosted in Miami by the White House Domestic Policy Council, Too Small to Fail, and the Invest in US campaign. The efforts include:

  • The Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Fla., counties, Univision, the Clinton Foundation's Too Small to Fail early childhood initiative will launch a public awareness campaign in Miami to promote early brain and language development by talking, reading, and singing with their infants and toddlers.
  • First Five California, a government program created to support the development of young children, will develop a $16 million program focusing on professional development for early educators and partnership with dual-language-learner families.
  • The National Head Start Association will partner with affiliates across the nation, business bureaus, and local chambers of commerce, to develop a toolkit to explore how to best support the dual-language-learner parents in areas such as job training, enrolling in adult education programs, and accessing English-language courses.
  • The New America Foundation released a report Thursday that outlines the importance of increasing the linguistic diversity of in the nation's teaching corps.

As part of Education Week's special report, Teaching America's English-Language Learners, we took a look at efforts in Tulsa, Okla., to address the boost the literacy of English-learners in its pre-kindergarten programs.

Photo Credit: Teaching assistant Richard Nolasco listens to Joshua Flores and Ke'mari Barnes during their prekindergarten class at Tulsa's Dual Language Academy. The population of Oklahoma's second-largest school district has shifted dramatically in recent years, with nearly 1 in every 3 students coming from homes where Spanish is the primary language.

--Shane Bevel for Education Week
Here's a look at the federal policy statement:

   Dll Policy Statement Final

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