San Francisco Schools Make Bilingual Education Advances

In San Francisco, close to 30% of the city's 17,000 English learners are in bilingual education programs in comparison to 5% statewide for California.

This is in stark contrast to Proposition 227, passed in 1998, which banned bilingual education in state schools and the ability to read, write, and do arithmetic in a student's native language become a rarity.

However, San Francisco is going against the grain, and it is working. For a district to get around Prop. 227, parents must sign a waiver stating their child can be in a bilingual education program.

A recent study published by Stanford University found that:

Bilingual education students, who learn to read and write in their native language and then transfer those academic skills into English, are – after a slower start – as fluent by sixth grade as those focused on and immersed in English with minimal support in their home language, according to the study.

English learners who were in dual immersion programs also had excellent results. In layman's terms, students ended up just as proficient in English regardless of how they learned it.

Researchers say the students are more likely to be bilingual and that the difference is the students in dual immersion and bilingual education programs are taught how to read, write, and speak in two languages.

The Stanford study included about 18,000 English learners in San Francisco schools from 2002 to 2010 and examined their results on the California English Language Development Test as well as the percentage of students who transitioned from English-learner status to full fluency each year.

Christina Wong, San Francisco Unified's special assistant to the superintendent, says the schools "haven't actually deterred from our goal of bilingualism" despite the state ban.

Jill Tucker reported in an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle that with the passing of Prop. 227, the term bilingual became a negative word.

There was a sense that in bilingual education classrooms, English learners were segregated and languished in native language classrooms, putting them at a significant disadvantage to their English-fluent peers.

The ruling passed with 60% voter support. Since then the global economy has placed more value on bilingual workers, and the demand has made its way down to schools.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that when it comes to teaching English, "the students primary language should be maintained so they can become bilingual."

Parents of English learners in San Francisco are opting more and more for dual immersion programs, which allow the student to use their native language without being in a segregated classroom.

According to the California Department of Education, the graduation rate for English Learners in San Francisco is 68%; state-wide the graduation rate is 62%.

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