Senators: Enactment of dual language immersion program critical to serving needs of all students, deserves RIDE support
STATE HOUSE, Providence – Several senators this week have renewed their commitment to creating dual-language immersion programs throughout Rhode Island, at a time when they say the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not committed enough employees and financial resources to teach world languages.
Senator Frank A. Ciccone III said, “We are not asking too much when we ask the Department of Education to make this a priority. They oversee a large budget, and they should be able to find the modest funding needed to get this program off the ground.”
Senator Ciccone submitted legislation last year to create a world language and dual language immersion program. The bill passed the Senate but did not emerge from the House amid funding concerns.
The legislation (2018-S-2506A) initially sought an additional $200,000 in funding for the world language effort. However, the bill moved to the House Finance Committee after legislators had approved the state budget without that funding appropriated. Ciccone said that’s when support for the initiative waned at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as state education leaders said they could not fund such an initiative within their existing budget.
Ciccone questioned their rationale.
“The department recently awarded close to $7 million in grants to support adult education programs,” he noted. “Adult education is extremely important, and I support that funding. But I find it difficult to believe that this same department couldn’t find $200,000 for language programs that would better prepare children for future economic success.”
Dual language immersion was a topic of discussion at the 7th Annual Senate Education Summit, which was held on Monday. At the summit, state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said the department recognizes language acquisition is a good thing and that dual-language immersion programs work.
Responding to an audience question about whether the department has used a peer-to-peer model so students who speak a variety of languages at home could help their English-speaking peers learn additional languages, Wagner said no.
Senator Ana B. Quezada said, “Now is the time for the schools to recognize the value of language education. Although my children are grown, I vividly remember a time in school when teachers told us as parents not to confuse the children by speaking a non-English language at home.”
Added Senator Sandra Cano, “I saw firsthand what a competitive global advantage bilingual and multilingual students have when I visited China, Hong Kong and Taiwan last year on a trip organized by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston. Our students across Rhode Island deserve excellent educational opportunities, including pathways to multilingualism that allow students to be more competitive.”
Senators Ciccone, Cano and Quezada met with world-language education experts on Tuesday to delve deeper into issues raised at the summit the previous day. At the follow-up meeting were Trey Calvin, a managing policy analyst for the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, who presented a keynote address at the summit, and Erin Papa, an assistant professor of world language education at Rhode Island College.
The group agreed that investing in dual-language programs has the potential to improve Rhode Island’s economy and prepare students for better-paying jobs that value multilingualism and may require bilingual candidates.
Calvin’s presentation at the Summit on Monday included a video from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ national campaign to make language proficiency a national priority. The video emphasized that 75 percent of the world’s 7 billion people don’t understand any English and that the world’s fastest-growing economies are non-English speaking.
“How can we succeed in commerce, in diplomacy and in our careers in today’s multilingual and multicultural world? With languages,” the video said. “ … Language competency equips our workforce for a competitive job market. It opens the doors for businesses of every size to connect with the 95 percent of the world’s customers who live outside our borders.”
Calvin told the senators how Utah’s bilingual governor a decade ago recognized the value of multilingualism as a tool for improving the state’s economy. By this school year, Calvin said, 225 Utah schools now offer dual-language immersion programs in a variety of languages: 113 in Spanish; 65 in Chinese; 31 in French; 13 in Portuguese; 2 in German; and 1 in Russian. Rhode Island districts now offering such programs include only Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and South Kingstown.
The senators said they plan to re-introduce their dual language immersion legislation again next year.
“We’re urging the Department of Education to support it,” Ciccone said. “Teaching more Rhode Island students to speak multiple languages is important for the economy of our state.”
For more information, contact:
Greg Pare, Press Secretary for the Senate
State House Room 314
Providence, RI 02903