In February 2006, the California Department of Education released the latest test scores for the state’s English learners. The results were positive – immigrant children are continuing to perform well under structured English immersion.
Opponents of Proposition 227 had predicted the measure, which California voters passed in 1998, would spell disaster. But the mandate that schools teach children “overwhelmingly” in English, rather than in their native languages, has resulted in a large, demonstrable improvement in English proficiency across California.
In 2001, only 25 percent of the state’s English learners scored in the top two categories of proficiency on the California English Language Development Test. By 2005, 47 percent scored “early advanced” or “advanced,” – an improvement of 22 percentage points.
This striking improvement is big news, because the population of English language learners continues to increase. “Today, our student population is ‘majority-minority,’” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in his 2006 state of education address. “Forty-one percent of our students speak a language other than English at home, and a quarter of all California public school students are struggling to learn the English language in school.”
The transition has been an uneven one, however, as some districts continue to resist immersion. But the positive results are becoming increasingly apparent, and many officials have reconsidered their reluctance to change.
This paper is the second in a series about California school districts that have made the switch from bilingual to immersion. It examines what successful school districts are doing – those that have implemented structured immersion programs and seen their English learner test scores improve significantly.
It explores the work of three California school districts that fully embraced immersion either before or after Proposition 227 passed – Los Angeles Unified School District, Long Beach Unified School District, and Grant Joint Union High School District. Their successes and lessons should help other teachers, principals, and trustees fulfill their mission of providing some of California’s neediest students – English learners – with the language skills they need to become successful members of their communities.
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