Gov. Baker: Goal is ensuring students learn English quickly

November 17, 2017 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that his top priority as he weighs legislation aimed at overhauling bilingual education in Massachusetts is ensuring students become proficient in English “as quickly as is reasonably possible.”

Lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill aimed at giving school districts more flexibility in choosing alternative approaches for teaching students who are still learning English.

The bill largely overturns a 2002 ballot question establishing an “English immersion” policy in Massachusetts.

Baker said he’s reviewing the bill.

“The most important element in this for us is for many — for tens of thousands of kids — the current program we have in place in Massachusetts is working extraordinarily well. For a bunch of other kids, clearly we have work to do,” Baker said.

He said the state should make sure that those students thriving under existing immersion programs don’t get sidetracked and that any other teaching methods be structured enough so a rigorous evaluation can be in place to see if they are working.

Baker wouldn’t say whether he plans to sign the bill.

Under the legislation, schools could decide to continue to use the English immersion model or adopt other programs intended to meet the language needs of students. The number of so-called “English learners” in Massachusetts has doubled to more than 90,000 students since 2000.

The bill, which won unanimous support in the Massachusetts Senate and passed by a 155-1 vote in the House, also creates a Massachusetts “Seal of Biliteracy” that could be awarded to students who show that they are proficient both in English and in one or more foreign languages.

Baker said he supports students wanting to become fluent in multiple languages, but wants to make sure the common language in Massachusetts schools is English.

“The only thing I would say about that is that in many of our schools you’re talking about 40 or 50 languages being spoken, but it’s pretty clear everybody would agree you need to be proficient in English to succeed in this country,” Baker said.

The bill passed by such a wide margin, lawmakers could easily override a veto by Baker.