Coalition celebrates a victory for students across Mass.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2017

Massachusetts State HouseBOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature tonight approved the Language Opportunity for Our Kids (LOOK) bill, greatly expanding options for English learners in the Commonwealth’s public schools and creating a new Seal of Biliteracy that will help students compete in the global economy. The bill goes next to the Governor for signature.

English learners are the fastest-growing population in Massachusetts schools, doubling since 2000 to more than 90,000 students, or about 9.5% of total enrollment. Some are immigrants, but 82% of them are U.S. citizens, and they live throughout the state: 90% of school districts have at least one English learner.

For 15 years, Massachusetts schools have been required to teach all these students the same way: in “sheltered English immersion” programs, which provide language support, but teach all the content strictly in English. There are exceptions, but they are very limited, benefiting only a small fraction of students.

Although the goal of this “one size fits all” approach was to benefit all students, it didn’t actually meet the needs of the state’s diverse English learner population. Since 2003, the gap between native speakers and English learners in fourth-grade reading scores has widened, for example, and less than half of English learners scored Proficient or Advanced in tenth-grade English and math MCAS assessments – a high school graduation requirement.

English learners also have the highest dropout rate of any subgroup, 6.6%, three times higher than the rate for all students (1.9%). Only 64% graduate from high school, compared with 87% of all students.

Recognizing these problems, the Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition, which brings together education and advocacy groups, worked with legislators to change the law. The result was the LOOK bill, which passed in both chambers of the Legislature last year. However, the House and Senate bills could not be reconciled before the end of the session. New bills introduced this year passed the House in June, by a 152–2 vote, and the Senate in July, unanimously, and were sent to a conference committee.

The resulting bill, passed tonight, allows districts to establish the English learner programs they deem to best meet the needs of their students, which may include the current sheltered English immersion, and/or two-way immersion, transitional bilingual, or other options. All programs must be research-based, drawing on best practices in the field, and include components to teach both subject matter (e.g. math) and English language.

“We are very excited about this change for our students and their families,” said Helen Solorzano, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL). “Teachers have long recognized that many English learners were falling through the cracks under the current system. With the passage of the LOOK bill, we will be able to tailor programs to help all our students succeed academically.”

“On behalf of the entire Coalition, I would like to express our deep appreciation to the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez, Senator Sal DiDomenico, and the Chairs of the Education Committee for their unwavering commitment to this legislation,” Solorzano added.

The bill also empowers parents, requiring districts to inform families of their options and allowing them to request any available English learner program for their child. Any group of 20 or more parents can also request a new program (e.g. dual-language or bilingual transitional education). In addition, districts with more than 100 English learners (or over 5%) will now have an English learner parent advisory council.

To ensure the all students make progress towards English language proficiency, the bill requires the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education to develop benchmarks for language acquisition and guidelines to help districts identify students who are falling behind, as well as a “success template” to assist them.

Finally, the bill establishes a state “Seal of Biliteracy” for students who achieve proficiency in English and an additional language. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia already have such programs. The Seal of Biliteracy can be earned by students of all language backgrounds, as long as they master both English and a second world language. A successful pilot project is now in its third year in Massachusetts.

“One of Massachusetts’ greatest strengths is the rich diversity of our people,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “Students in our schools speak over 150 languages and navigate between cultures every day. That is a huge advantage on the global stage, and we need to build on it. Young people deserve to make the most of all their assets.”

The full text of the bill, An Act Relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids, is available here. For background, see the Coalition’s detailed factsheet on English learners in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition includes the Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education (MABE), the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA), the Massachusetts Educators of English Language Learners (MATSOL), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). To learn more about the Coalition, go to https://languageopportunity.org.

LOOK bill sent to conference committee

The LOOK Bill passed the House on June 7, 2017 in a vote of 152-2, and passed by the Senate unanimously on July 27. The two versions of the bill were referred to conference committee and the following legislators were appointed to the committee: Rep. Alice Peisch, House co-chair of the Education Committee, Rep. Frank Moran and Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, along with Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Senate co-chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Sal DiDomenico, and Sen. Patrick O’Connor.

Seal of Biliteracy Hearing

Seal-of-Biliteracy-LogoThere will be a hearing on the Seal of Biliteracy bills before the Joint Committee of Education Tuesday, June 27, 2017, 10 am, Room A2  at the Massachusetts State House,

Be prepared to testify on behalf of …

  • S.311 An Act to promote global trade and economic development through biliteracy (Sponsor: Senator Karen Spilka)
  • H.285 An Act to promote global trade and economic development through biliteracy (Sponsor: Representative Kay Khan)
  • H.2045 An Act relative to the state seal of biliteracy (Sponsor: Representative Bradley Jones)

We are seeking testimony in favor of the bills, either in person or in writing. Submit written testimony to the committee co-chairs:

  • Representative Alice Peisch: Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov
  • Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz: Sonia.Chang-Diaz@masenate.gov

GUIDANCE FOR ORAL TESTIMONIALS

Testimonials that tell a story about individuals are very powerful. Focus on what you know and care about. Think about what you know and have experienced and present your concerns and ideas for better solutions. (Possible Topics: Pathway Awards, Seal of Bilitearcy Pilot experience, personal experience learning a second language, personal experience using two or more languages in your job or career, personal experience as a student in a language learning program.) You have so much to offer policy conversations without having to be a data or policy expert. Plan to speak for no more than 3 minutes.

GUIDANCE FOR WRITTEN TESTIMONY

You can submit written testimony to the Chairs of the committee and cc: your State Senator and State Representative. Here is the list of names for the Joint Education Committee Chairs and members. Bring a written copy of our testimony to leave with the committee, as well. You can bring just one copy of testimony, and the staff will make copies for the Committee files, or you can bring enough for all committee members (~20) if you prefer. You can bring other visual handouts to attach with your testimony, too.

  • Limit the text to 1.5 pages
  • Include your name, address, where you work or study, what you do for work,
  • State “I am ….
  • State I am in favor of the bill S311, H285, H 2045 and this is why.
  • Pick one action point listed in the Seal of Biliteracy Talking Points and speak to that.
  • State “I recommend that bill S311, H285, H 2045 should be passed.

RESOURCES

See the Seal of Biliteracy page for resources and fact sheets.

LET US KNOW YOU ARE TESTIFYING

Please use the Contact Us page if you plan to testify or send testimony, and send us an electronic copy of your testimony so that we can post them on the Coalition blog site.

House Passes LOOK Bill

Language Opportunity Sketch_1.16June 7, 2017 – The Language Opportunity Coalition applauds the Massachusetts House of Representatives for passage of legislation that brings meaningful reform to our education system for the way we teach English learners. The legislation passed today by the House will make important changes to the laws that govern educators in Massachusetts, giving school districts increased flexibility to make sure that the English language instruction programs they offer are those that work best for their district’s students. We are grateful to the Speaker and House leadership for prioritizing these important changes so early in the legislative session.

While no legislation is perfect, we firmly believe that the House passed language takes a critical first step in addressing the issues of our current system.  We look forward to working with members of the Senate as this legislation now moves on to their branch.

We are truly grateful to the leadership of the Speaker, the Education Chair and Education Committee, and our legislative champions Representative Jeffery Sanchez and Representative Tony Cabral for taking such a strong stance on this critical issue and ensuring that English Language Learner reform is one of the first issues the legislature tackles this legislative session.

Support legislation for language opportunity in Massachusetts!

LO-Profile2The Language Opportunity Coalition urges you to support two bills filed in the Massachusetts legislature:

The Language Opportunity Coalition is proud to announce that two exciting bills have been filed for the 2015-2016 Massachusetts legislative session:

“An Act to Establish a State Seal of Biliteracy” (HD 1698/SD 1012), filed by Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan

“An Act relative to Language Opportunity for Our Kids (LOOK)” (HD2211/SD743), filed by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Jeff Sanchez.

We now believe we can gather the support we need to be successful this upcoming legislative session. However, we need your help!

We want to ensure that as many State Senators and State Representatives as possible sign on to these bills as co-sponsors. The deadline for co-sponsorship is Friday, January 30th, 2015. 

We are asking you to make two phone calls or send two emails TODAY in support of these bills. 

Take action now!