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Do Schools Value the Bilingualism of English-Learners?


In the past decade, the popularity of the seal of biliteracy has surged across the country.

What started out as an effort to promote educational equity for English-language learners in California may be morphing into something else as more states pass legislation that honors high school graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

For English-language learner advocates and foreign language instructors, the national embrace of bilingualism is a welcome sight.

But, for me, a big unanswered question remains: Bilingualism for whom?

Finding the answer to that question has been tough.  It's a subject Education Week sought to address in its latest special report, 10 Big Ideas, an in-depth look at what's on the horizon in education in 2019.

As it stands, most states aren't tracking demographic data on who earns the seal.

Now, some researchers are taking a deeper look at the issue. A new analysis out of Georgetown University, led by Nicholas Subtirelu, sheds some light on who's earning the seal of biliteracy and who's not. The findings may surprise you. Or maybe they won't, depending on your vantage point.

As pointed out in my Big Ideas piece, The Truth About Bilingualism, the research suggests that schools with whiter, more affluent students were more likely to offer the seal of biliteracy.

Does that mean that states are prioritizing "elite bilingualism," the language learning of middle- and upper-middle class students? Possibly.

A nationwide review of states' seal of biliteracy legislation and policies, led by Amy Heineke, an associate professor at Loyola Unviersity Chicago, and Kristin Davin, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, found that most states declined to even mention English-learners when framing the purpose of those laws and policies.

I'd love to hear what educators across the country are seeing in their districts and states: Are English-learner students in your schools earning the seal of biliteracy? Do the students and their families know about the opportunity? If not, what can be done to ensure they do?

Feel free to contact me at [email protected] or via Twitter @c_c_mitchell.

Related Reading

Will Every State Offer Special Recognition for Its Bilingual Graduates?

More States and Districts Embrace Biliteracy

Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate 'Superdiverse' English-Learners

Photo: Kindergarten student Ariella Renee, center, jumps during a game of "freeze dance" set to Haitian music. Renee is one of several dozen students enrolled in the Toussaint L'Ouverture Academy, a Haitian Creole dual-language program at Mattahunt Elementary School in Boston. --Gretchen Ertl for Education Week

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