ELL supporters testify for LOOK bill

Beth Shevlin and Andrei JosephRetired educator Andrei Joseph and Elizabeth Shevlin of the MTA Center for Education Policy and Practice testified in favor of bill to expand English acquisition programs in public schools.

Educators, students, community groups and legislators made clear that one size does not fit all when it comes to meeting the needs of English language learners.

They were among those testifying at the State House on May 12 in support of a bill that would expand language acquisition opportunities in public schools.

Supporters of the bill, known as Language Opportunities for Our Kids — or LOOK— told the Joint Committee on Education that multicultural influences are an asset to learning, not a detriment to it.

The MTA — along with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Massachusetts Educators of English Language Learners, Citizens for Public Schools, the Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education and others — testified in support of the bill, which would allow schools to add other programs to the currently mandated Sheltered English Immersion method used for students whose native language is not English. LOOK supporters maintain that dual-language programs and other types of English acquisition teaching methods will better serve those students who struggle academically in immersion programs.

Both of the bill’s main sponsors, Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, testified that expanding such programs would benefit all students by increasing graduation rates, cutting dropout rates and closing achievement gaps among English language learners.

“We will not make progress and prepare our students for the challenges of their multicultural societies by silencing who they are and where they come from.”

- Somerville educator Gloria Salazar

The provision in the bill that would establish a biliteracy seal for qualifying high-school graduates would allow all students to benefit from knowing more than one language.

The LOOK bill is among MTA’s legislative priorities. Elizabeth Shevlin, an education policy specialist at the MTA Center for Education Policy and Practice and a licensed ESL teacher, said the bill “will open opportunities for educators to build successful programs without added red tape. The LOOK bill will honor educators’ expertise.”

Retired educator Andrei Joseph, who also testified, contrasted his career in the Concord-Carlisle district with the experiences his daughter faces as a public school teacher in Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood.

Many ESL students arriving in Concord-Carlisle had been well-educated before coming to the United States, he said. But many of the ESL students his daughter teaches do not have anything like the education foundation that he was able to build upon in his district, he said.

“What is appropriate in Concord-Carlisle will not be appropriate in Grove Hall,” Joseph said.

Somerville educator Gloria Salazar provided written testimony stating that it takes years for a student to acquire a second language and that multiple methods of language teaching are necessary to reach all students.

“Please untie the hands of those working directly with the students,” she wrote.

She continued, “We need to embrace all that comes with our children because we will not make progress and prepare our students for the challenges of their multicultural societies by silencing who they are and where they come from.”

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