The Massachusetts Teachers Association is applauding a new law that will give school districts greater flexibility in how they educate English learners.
“This new law respects the diversity of learners and their native languages and cultures. It is especially meaningful that parents will have more voice in advocating for the needs of their children.”MTA President Barbara Madeloni
House 4032, An Act Relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids, was approved by both the House and Senate on Nov. 15 and has been signed by the governor. The LOOK bill was developed by a joint House and Senate conference committee, which reconciled versions of the measure previously approved by each branch.
“This law provides school districts with greater flexibility to implement English learner programs that best meet the needs of their students,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “It removes the one-size-fits-all restrictions that have limited most districts to offering just one kind of instruction — Sheltered English Immersion.”
The English-only mandate was a result of the 2002 passage of an initiative proposed by Ron Unz, a California businessman and anti-bilingual-education crusader. The so-called Unz law forced districts to implement a Sheltered English Immersion program as the default language acquisition program and drove many bilingual and bicultural educators out of public schools.
Since that law was implemented, many educators contended that the mandate left too many students behind by requiring that they be taught in English-only classrooms with no local flexibility to craft innovative alternative programs. The MTA joined groups representing English as a Second Language teachers in advocating for the kinds of flexibility included in the LOOK bill.
New programs that could be created under the LOOK bill include, but are not limited to, dual language instruction and transitional bilingual education.
The new measure will also:
- Require districts that serve significant numbers of EL students (100 or more students, or at least 5 percent of the student population) to establish English learner parent advisory councils.
- Require districts to consider new EL programs that are requested by the parents or guardians of at least 20 students.
- Establish a special commission to study data relative to school-age ELs.
- Create a “seal of biliteracy” for students to encourage districts to promote the acquisition of a second language.
“Educators have been saying for years that Sheltered English Immersion instruction is not the best program for all students,” Madeloni said. “This new law respects the diversity of learners and their native languages and cultures. It is especially meaningful that parents will have more voice in advocating for the needs of their children.”