“Multilingual students are making academic gains in reading and mathematics—at double or triple the rates of their English-only-speaking peers.” That research comes from New York University and Oregon State University. In Minnesota in 2016-2017, 252 different home languages were reported for about 860,000 students. This data comes from the fall 2017 report from the MN Department of Education. So if the research shows that multilingual students achieve at a rate faster than monolingual students, why isn’t Minnesota using the 252 languages to its advantage in schools?
Minnesota’s Emerging Multilingual Learner (EML) population is 8.3%, and their academic achievement and graduation rates are significantly lower than other students in the state. Yet much research shows that multilingualism supports better cognitive development and executive function. Still, the majority, if not all, of school lessons in Minnesota are taught in English. Defining students as “English Learners” clarifies the position that students have a deficit of English and their language is a problem. But if we flip the script and recognize the microcosm of the world within our schools, language is seen as a right and resource.
For about two years, MnEEP partnered with the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) on a project to offer recommendations to the MN Department of Education for its new Every Student Succeeds Act state plan. We involved a group of community stakeholders and parent voices to inform our recommendations. Our recommendations were accepted, the US Department of Education accepted Minnesota’s plan, and we have continued to work with districts, families, and stakeholders on how to continue advocating for Emerging Multilingual Learners in school accountability.
As a final product of this project, we developed a brief, animated video that legitimizes EMLs’ historical and cultural importance in the classroom. The video offers calls to action if you are a student, parent, teacher, administrator, or policymaker for strengthening EML achievement. Forthcoming are audio versions in Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Karen. Multilingualism does not solely benefit EMLs. It is in everyone’s interest to live in a state that politically and culturally elevates the fastest growing student population.