THE BLOG
07/10/2013 05:03 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Ensuring All Children Start School Ready to Learn

A historic opportunity to serve Dual Language Learners as part of a federal early learning plan

Like so many other advocates who know the value of investing in early learning, I was tremendously excited by the president's landmark proposal to significantly expand federal investments in early learning and Early Edge California is working with others across the nation and in California to build support for this historic initiative as it moves through Congress. As we advocate for a greater commitment of resources, we know far more than we did before about how children learn and have an opportunity with this national dialogue to ensure that our scarce public dollars are invested wisely to promote better outcomes for our youngest learners.

This new research includes dramatic new insights into how children acquire language and how this affects their brain development. With 1 in 4 of the nation's English Language Learners students living in California, this federal early learning plan also has the potential to be groundbreaking in that it ensures all children, including our young English learners, get the strong start they need to succeed in school.

Earlier this month, 27 organizations and nationally recognized researchers from across the state, including Early Edge California and National Council of La Raza submitted a letter to Congress sharing this new research with our elected officials to inform development of standards and principles for serving children ages birth to 8 who speak two or more languages, often referred to as Dual Language Learners (DLLs), as part of a comprehensive early learning plan.

Researchers have found that babies have an innate capacity to learn two languages from birth, and that, contrary to what some believe, this early exposure to both languages does not cause confusion, or delay development in either language.

In fact, findings from a multi-state study show that Spanish-speaking preschoolers' reading and math scores were higher when they received more instruction in Spanish, especially when they attended high-quality programs. In the long term, programs that teach students in two languages have fewer high school dropouts, and those students outperform other English learners who are taught in English only.

Serving these Dual Language Learners is not only a sound investment in their educational success, it is also an investment in our country's future. Across the nation, more than a quarter of all young children under age six have a parent who speaks a language other than English. Dual Language Learners have been the fastest growing child population for more than two decades, and that growth is expected to continue. Children who are learning two or more languages enter our education system with an enormous intellectual, social and personal asset that can improve our national economy and security: their home language. Studies show that children and adults who speak a second language also have an advantage in their ability to think flexibly. This means that they possess the kinds of skills that are increasingly critical to 21st century college and career success.

States across the country are beginning to understand the critical importance of serving DLLs and have made efforts to better serve these young learners. Conversations at the federal level about optimizing and increasing early learning investments provide an important opportunity for our states to find common ground on how to best meet the needs of DLLs and prepare and support qualified teachers who serve them.

We believe that effective programs for children who speak languages other than English require continued development of the first language while the acquisition of English is promoted. We also support ensuring that culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate programming and practices are incorporated in all systems and services, and are beneficial to all adults and children. And finally, we know that DLLs need specialized pedagogical approaches beyond what is deemed high-quality in early childhood education.

As California organizations advocating on behalf of our state's children and families, we are extremely heartened to see early learning emerge as a national priority because there are far too many children who don't get the strong start they need. But it is crucial that we get this right. As our economy recovers, we simply cannot afford to spend our scarce public dollars on anything but the best possible plan for our kids. To ensure all children are ready for school, and on a path to success in college and careers, we must begin much earlier and make strategic investments in our Dual Language Learners.