Bilingual ed restrictions hurt California, says UO's Umansky

Ilana M. Umansky, UO College of Education

A 1998 voter referendum that strictly limited bilingual education in California's public schools has weakened educational efforts and held back non-English-speaking children, according to a report led by the UO's Ilana Umansky.

The report's nine co-authors are calling on California to expand opportunities for these students and to change the system for how these students, currently labeled as English learners, are categorized.

"One in five K-12 students in the U.S. speaks a language other than English at home," said Umansky, an assistant professor in the UO College of Education.  "These kids — our kids — come to school with enormous assets but too often they face multiple barriers to opportunity in school. This policy brief brings together the work of three school districts and university researchers to provide a rich picture of English learners’ experiences, opportunities and outcomes in school, and how states and districts can support students reaching their full potential."

The report, published online Oct. 20, is part of series of policy briefs by Policy Analysis for California Education. It focuses on the education of California’s large English-learner population.

Umansky is sharing the report's findings Friday, Oct. 23, in Sacramento with legislators and other state government officials as part a seminar series held by Policy Analysis for California Education.

The restrictions on bilingual education began when voters passed Proposition 227. The issue is expected to be a ballot measure again in 2016.

An important finding of the new report, Umansky said, is that English learners have restricted access to core academic content in the state's schools. In addition, they are much less likely than other students to take the core courses required for admission into four-year universities, and they are often enrolled in less-rigorous, slower-paced classes than English-speaking students. English learners also often face unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and criteria for reclassifying out of English-learner status.

For more details, see the story "California schools holding back English Learners" on the website of the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Umansky joined the College of Education's Department of Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership in September 2014. She also is a researcher in the college's Center for Equity Promotion. Her work focuses on educational opportunities and outcomes of immigrant students, emerging bilingual students and students classified in school as English learners.

— By Jim Barlow, Public Affairs Communications