A new report by the Center for American Progress calls on federal, state and local leaders to meet the needs of preschool students who are English language learners by providing dual-language services.
The study says there is a need to increase the numbers of bilingual teaching staff to better serve Hispanic, low-income children entering programs unable to speak English. It cites Head Start principles that focus on supporting a child’s native language while introducing English. ”To be clear, we recognize that early childhood programs must focus on English language competency to ensure school readiness,” the report notes. “But rigorous research indicates that helping children improve their home-language skills can markedly augment and support English-language competency.”
The report also cited a 2009 longitudinal study of four-year-olds by the National Center for Education Statistics that found that Hispanic children lagged behind Asian, white and black children in basic letter and number recognition. About 23 percent of Hispanic 4-year-olds were proficient at recognizing letters, compared with 37 percent of white children. And 51 percent of Hispanic children were proficient at recognizing numbers and shapes, compared with 73 percent of white children.
Some states are making efforts to address ELLs. Illinois requires bilingual preschool, and 27 other states allow bilingual pre-K classes. But state standards vary widely. According to the report, eight states require early education providers to write a plan for dealing with ELLs and 17 states require providers to screen and assess ELL students. The study points out that the states don’t specify how the children should be assessed and only Delaware requires the assessment to be done in the child’s home language.
Increasing dual-language services was just one of 10 education reforms the study calls for. The list also includes improving early childhood data and partnering with states to align their early learning standards.