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Arne Duncan: Schools Should Invest in 'Multiliteracy'

With his still-new director of the Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is calling for public schools to sink resources into offering language-instruction programs that will produce a whole lot more bilingual and multilingual students.

In an op-ed published in Wednesday's Los Angeles Daily News, the education secretary and Libia S. Gil, the director of OELA, argue that educators and community members should view the nearly 5 million English-language learners in public schools as assets that can help propel more American students to becoming speakers of other languages. Students who are native speakers of Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic or Hmong, to name a few, should be learning alongside native English speakers—with heritage language speakers teaching their English-speaking peers and vice-versa, they contend.

"The heritage languages our English-learners bring to school are major assets to preserve and value," wrote Duncan and Gil.

Duncan, over the course of his five years as the nation's top education official, has not had a ton to say about language education, though he has consistently voiced his support for dual-language programs and the benefits of bilingualism. Last spring, in a breakfast roundtable with reporters, he made clear his strong support for dual-language instruction and, in particular, the academic benefits it affords English-language learners.

But many educators and advocates for ELLs have been disappointed in the overall support for the unique needs of English-learners from Duncan's department, and I highly doubt this op-ed will do much to change that. Just last month, scholars at the University of Colorado issued a highly critical report on the department's lack of attention to the needs of the fastest growing population of students in K-12 schools. When I reached out to the department to react to the report, they never bothered to provide a response.

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