Nan Austin

Prop. 58 cuts red tape for teaching languages

Among the 17 propositions Californians may be looking at and scratching their heads over is Proposition 58, the LEARN Initiative, which ends a mandate to always teach in English in favor of local control and figuring out what works.

LEARN stands for Language Education, Acquisition and Readiness Now. Tortured acronym aside, it is common sense to let teachers debate and school boards decide what their communities need.

Current law dictates a one-size-fits-all approach that clearly does not fit all. In Stanislaus County last year, 61 percent of English learners were stuck in a linguistic rut, having failed to master the language after more than six years in U.S. schools. The statewide number is 63 percent.

If nearly 2 in 3 English learners are not marching forward – despite being surrounded by English teaching, English pop songs, English shows, English chatter – we seriously need to re-evaluate.

That is the argument on the English-learner side. There is also a growing movement on the English-only side calling for greater access to foreign language learning at an early age.

Research shows that learning a second language contributes to brain development and leads to higher-level skills in later grades. Serious studies bear this out, but I also did my own fast peek at test scores. The Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy in Turlock, a school so popular the district has opened a second program at another school to ease overcrowding, outscores the district overall in English starting in fifth grade – not scientific, but enough to look promising.

Dual-language teaching is just one model. Lots of other good ideas are out there and Prop. 58 puts them back on the table.

The California Teachers Association supports Prop. 58, as does the California State PTA, the California School Boards Association, the League of Women Voters of California, the California Chamber of Commerce and a slew of others. Count me among them.