One-third of children up to 8 years old speak two languages at home, but in US schools they do not have the same support as those who only speak English, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
During the discussion of the work today at a panel of experts, participants stressed that the main problem of these children is the lack of pre-school education, which in the case of Hispanics reaches 41.5%, while in the group of those who only speak English is 47.9%.
According to experts, children need a solid pre-school education to avoid future problems in kindergarten, in preparation for entry to primary education and in their academic future.
A child who starts or misses preschool, already shows problems in the fourth year of primary school with low reading and math levels, said Margie McHugh, director of MPI.
“All children need tools that underpin their future success,” but they do not often have access to them because “very few states have adopted or implemented” policies that address their needs, he added.
Maki Park, a policy analyst and MPI program coordinator, used information from the Census Bureau to outline the sociodemographic characteristics of so-called Dual Language Learners (DLLs) in the United States.
The expert reported that there are 11.5 million in that category, or 32% of children up to 8 years of age who live mostly in California (2.7 million), Texas (1.75 million), New York ( 893,000), Florida (781,000), and Illinois (495,000).
Hispanics lead the list with 62%, followed by Asians with 15% and African Americans with 6%, and Spanish is the main language of their parents (59%), followed by Chinese, Tagalog and Arabic.
Hispanic parents of these children have high rates of limited English proficiency, where only 41% speak “very good” language, and only 26% have finished high school.
“States have a great task to address the growing needs of their immigrant communities and their children’s DLLs,” said Park, for whom the characteristics of the families, who in 58 percent are also low-income, can impede access to quality preschool programs.
Another important finding in today’s discussion was that the growth in the number of children of immigrants in the last decade has led to the adoption of compulsory bilingual education laws in several states, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington State and Wisconsin.
In contrast, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Tennessee passed laws prohibiting bilingual education in public schools, although Massachusetts lawmakers are debating possible reversal of the law.
Also, in South Carolina, it is specifically required that preschool courses be conducted in English.
Marlene Zepeda, an emeritus professor at California State University in Los Angeles, reported that she was one of those who only taught in English, but the law banning bilingual education was overturned in 2016 by the so-called Proposition 58.
“Public schools have more flexibility to design and implement bilingual and multilingual programs,” she said.
Zepeda stressed the importance that parents have as a model in the early education of children, which will prevail for the rest of their lives.
“Immigrant parents, even though they do not have a formal education, have a lot of power to help three- and four-year-olds develop language and brain” in preschool, which will have repercussions on their entire family, he said.