What do the Common Core Standards mean for bilingual education?

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the CCSS have remained silent regarding bilingualism. The consequences of this silence are that the standards have been interpreted through an English-Only lens. Because this argument seemed to resonate with many people I thought I would expand on it a bit and focus on the implications of the CCSS on bilingual education. With the CCSS now in the initial stages of implementation, we have an opportunity to make bilingual education central to the conversation in ways that ensure that the CCSS build on—rather than ignore—the bilingualism of emergent bilingual students.

One way to do so is through the use of texts not only in English, but also in the students’ home languages. For example, Standard 1 for Reading Literature and Reading Informational Text in the sixth grade asks students to grapple “with works of exceptional craft and thought whose range extends across genres, cultures, and centuries.” Although it also mentions “seminal U.S. documents, the classics of American literature, and the timeless dramas of Shakespeare,” which would seem to indicate the need for an English-only approach, a bilingual education program can teach these texts in the home language, gaining, as the standard continues, “a reservoir of literary and cultural knowledge, references, and images; the ability to evaluate intricate arguments; and the capacity to surmount the challenges posed by complex texts.” In other words, students can build on the literacy abilities that they already have in their home language. They can also expand their understandings and learn to grapple with the craft and ideas in the texts, as they compare and contrast the bilingual texts.

Another way that the CCSS can be read in ways that build on the bilingualism of emergent bilingual students is through an alignment of home language literacy development with the ELA standards. Many emergent bilingual students who are new to English are also emerging in their development of language for academic purposes as used in US schools. Therefore, many students will need scaffolding and differentiation in order to engage with grade-level texts even in their home language. New York State is currently developing a resource that bilingual education teachers can use to meet the diverse needs of their students. The “Home Language Arts Progressions” are divided into five stages of literacy development: (1) entering, (2) emerging, (3) transitioning, (4) expanding, and (5) commanding. Each of these stages includes scaffolded performance indicators that indicate the types of supports that students at this stage of academic literacy development in their home language need to engage with grade-level texts and to perform the language tasks that the CCSS demand.

Finally, the CCSS can be read in ways that build on the bilingualism of emergent bilingual students by making their bilingual language practices central to the curriculum.  For example, Standard 6 for Speaking and Listening in the fourth grade asks students to “differentiate between contexts that call for formal English and situations where informal discourse is appropriate.” Emergent bilinguals can be supported in achieving this standard by reflecting on the dynamic ways that they use their two languages throughout their day. They may speak a formal variety of their home language with their parents, engage in bilingual interactions with their siblings, and use informal English with their monolingual peers. By analyzing their lived experience they can begin to build bridges to the meta-language that the standard demands.

CCSS claims as its major goal to prepare students for the 21st century. The 21st century demands bilingual and multilingual competencies—competencies that emergent bilingual students bring to the classroom. Rather than ignore these competencies, the CCSS must build upon them to ensure emergent bilinguals are provided access to CCSS-aligned curricula and deepen understandings of texts and language use.

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