Coalition celebrates a victory for students across Mass.

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

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.

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.

LOOK Bill Advances with Seal of Biliteracy

Language Opportunity Sketch_1.16April 18, 2017: The LOOK Bill — H.3705/S.2070 An Act for language opportunity for our kids — was reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Education and and referred to the House & Senate Committees on Ways and Means.

The LOOK Bill removes the restrictive mandate requiring Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the “one size fits all” default English Language Learner (ELL) program model, and gives school districts the flexibility to establish programs based on the educational needs of their students. It also establishes a state Seal of Biliteracy.

Find out more…

Mass Senate unanimously passes the LOOK Bill

LO-Header-3-6Today the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2395 An Act for language opportunity for our kids – the “LOOK bill” – by a unanimous vote.

The LOOK bill gives school districts the flexibility to choose high-quality, research-based programs to meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) and establishes the State Seal of Biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who speak, read, and write in two languages, a valuable asset in the 21st century global economy. View the LOOK Bill Fact Sheet …

We thank our Senators for supporting the educational needs of English learners in Massachusetts, and especially Sen. Sal DiDomenico, the bill sponsor; Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, c0-chair of the Joint Committee on Education; and Sen. Karen Spilka for their leadership and dedication on this issue.

The bill is still under consideration by the House.

Lawmakers must act to correct flaws in how we teach English learners

Letter to the Editor in support of the LOOK Bill and Seal of Biliteracy Bill from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education professor Anne Homza:

I know of no educational research or theory that supports the state’s restrictive, one-size-fits-all sheltered-English approach. In fact, there is no evidence that such a broad yet singular approach to learning would be appropriate for the education of any subgroup of students. The fact that such an approach has been applied to the subgroup of students who happen to come to school with proficiency in a language other than English is highly discriminatory.

The Boston Globe (July 17, 2015): Lawmakers must act to correct flaws in how we teach English learners

LOOK Bill – Letters to the Editor

Two Letters to the Editor were published in The Boston Globe in support of the March 31 Globe editorial on the LOOK Bill: