California educates about 1.6 million, or nearly a third, of the nation’s 5.1 million English language learners, so it is often looked at as a trend-setting state. That’s one reason why it was interesting to read about what happened in Carol Decker’s pre-school class in the Santa Clarita Valley, where the four-year-olds who showed up in September arrived speaking hardly any English at all.
At the beginning of the year, the group scored lower than English speakers in categories ranging from self-care, motor skills and social expression. But by the spring of 2009, almost all of those differences had disappeared.
California was the first state to approve standards known as “learning foundations,” to help preschoolers who are English learners develop language skills, and plans to release more details on how to use the standards this month.
Nationally, much debate remains about how much support students who speak languages other than English should get in pre-school — and beyond. In Illinois, new regulations have been proposed that would give additional support to English language learners, who are the fastest growing group of children in the U.S.
“If approved, the rules would also require districts to give a home-language survey to parents to determine if a language other than English is spoken at home, screen all children from such homes for their English proficiency, and provide transitional bilingual education in preschools where 20 or more pupils with limited English proficiency speak the same native language,” the recent Education Week article noted. “Preschools without a critical mass speaking the same home language would have to provide English-as-a-second-language instruction.”
Some experts are concerned that the new regulations would separate, isolate and possibly marginalize students who don’t speak English when they start school.