The Benefits of Multilingual Learning
The recent article “Santa Barbara’s Black, Latinx Grads Less Likely to Get into California’s Public Universities” and the subsequent response entitled “Too Much Too Soon” [in the shorter print version] highlight a serious problem in our community. The needs of white students are being prioritized over the needs of Latinx and Black students.
We have been teaching the same way for years. The problem remains the same. Data shows that Latinx and Black students continue to face serious inequities, and as a community we continue to fail to meet their educational needs. We owe it to our community to try some new approaches.
Multilingualism is an asset. Dual-language immersion (DLI) is a research-based model that is largely proven to be effective. The decision to implement DLI in Santa Barbara was made by leadership who largely mirror the population that will benefit from the program.
Despite the contrasting scores in the case of Franklin and Adelante schools highlighted in Rosanne Crawford’s letter, research shows that dual-language immersion programs are actually more likely to boost reclassification rates.
Well-organized bilingual education programs aim to enhance a child’s fund of knowledge in both English and Spanish by emphasizing content knowledge and literacy development in the native language. Content knowledge gained in the native language builds confidence and only helps the English the student hears become more comprehensible. Research shows that literacy gained in one language transfers to additional acquired languages.
Despite all the noise, socioeconomic status remains a more consistent predictor of academic success than any other variable. Criticisms of dual-language immersion are a red-herring. They distract from the real problem. Some students in Santa Barbara remain systematically better supported than others.
When we focus our enthusiasm and our efforts on meeting the needs of the most vulnerable—when we show up to ask, listen, and make space for the needs of those who are marginalized—it is not a zero sum. When all energy is focused on the needs of those who have been historically oppressed, everyone stands to gain.
Much of the public discourse about dual-language immersion at schools like McKinley has sounded a lot like “us” debating what works for “them.” White people, even as allies, are not the experts on what education for historically disenfranchised student groups should look or feel like. When are we going to show up to listen? Can we as a community in Santa Barbara learn to make space for the voices of those who have never been served well?
Surely, instituting a robust DLI program will be a significant challenge. But instead of debating its merits and dismantling the plane before it takes off, let’s give this exciting new project the opportunity it deserves.
English-language proficiency isn’t the main problem facing our students and schools; inequality in our community is.