Thursday, October 27, 2016

Support for WA Dual Language Learners to Grow

This month, the Department of Early Learning and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction convened nearly 30 dual language learning experts and advocates for a state-wide Brain Trust on Dual Language Learners (DLLs). 

The group included:
  • educators, 
  • parents, 
  • administrators, 
  • researchers, 
  • academics, 
  • state agency representatives, 
  • representatives of the philanthropic community, and 
  • early childhood advocates from some of Washington’s most diverse communities. 
The result was lively discussion about how best to recognize, support, and cultivate Washington’s rich language diversity in preschool through third grade settings.

Washington State is growing increasingly diverse: in May 2014, approximately 10.5% of children enrolled in Washington public schools were speaking English as a second language. By 2025, The National Education Association predicts that nearly one out of every four students will be an English language learner (OSPI, 2016).  

At DEL, we know that the brain science tells us that children learn language easily when they’re young, and dual language learners are an asset to our state. However, we recognize that our early learning system is not well equipped to support these young learners in the best way possible, and our early learning professionals don’t have the tools they need to ensure these children thrive.

The Brain Trust convening explored the need for a more culturally and linguistically responsive system at all levels, including family and community engagement, classroom practice, professional development, assessment, and administrative support. Joanne Knapp-Philo, Ph.D., the former director of the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, facilitated the discussion and helped the group understand this work in the context of other promising efforts around the nation. This includes the recently released White House policy statement on Supporting Dual Language Learners in Early Learning Settings. We are excited to join the federal government in forging new ground to support all of our diverse students.

Attendees of the first DEL/OSPI-sponsored Brain Trust on Dual Language Learners pose together for a photo after two days of information sharing and deliberation.
While this meeting was a major step forward for prioritizing DLLs across our early childhood education systems we hope to continue getting input from the field before ultimately deciding on a shared vision for the state. We hope that, in gathering wisdom from such a wide range of stakeholders, we can honor the many complexities of this issue while promoting collaboration at every level.

As one of the most diverse states in the country, Washington is uniquely poised in the national movement in working to ensure the early childhood field has the resources and guidance they need to embrace the cultural and linguistic assets of this large and growing population of children. As we work to get 90% of kids ready for kindergarten by 2020 and eliminate race and income as a predictor of that success, celebrating and supporting the diverse linguistic talents among our children will be one of the keys to achieving that goal. 

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (2016). A call for equity and excellence for English language learners in Washington. Olympia, WA: OSPI Bilingual Education Advisory Committee. Retrieved from,

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