30 percent bilingual rate among NJ children — Is that enough?
Thirty percent of children in New Jersey speak a language in addition to English at home, according to figures from child advocacy group the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The Garden State posted one of the biggest jumps in the statistic — a 5 percent increase — over the past decade.
The foundation noted speaking two or more languages is associated with increased abilities to focus and solve problems. It also pointed to greater access to higher-paying jobs.
The rate of bilingualism on the national level is 22 percent. Just four states posted a percentage higher than New Jersey's rate.
But New Jersey's pleasant showing is likely more the product of a diverse demographic, rather than an education system crafting students' fluency in a language beyond their native tongue.
"The majority of those children do come from homes where a second language is already spoken," said Amanda Seewald, president of Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey.
Seewald cited a push nationwide to eventually have "all children become bilingual and work on proficiency in more than one language."
But as other states and cities act on that goal, New Jersey can be accused of dragging its feet.
Before Chris Christie ended his reign as New Jersey Governor, he failed to act on a bill that would establish a grant program so school districts could develop dual-language immersion programs — teaching half of the day in English and the other half in a target language.
The legislation, sponsored by Patrick Diegnan in the Senate and Dan Benson in the Assembly, required the programs begin in kindergarten or grade one.
Last week, New York City announced it will largely expand its bilingual programs, teaching Bengali, Italian, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish. Delaware and Utah feature statewide initiatives for dual-language immersion programs as other states and cities work on legislation to do the same.
"We hope to start dual-language immersion programs here in New Jersey as well," Seewald said, noting it's expected the legislation will be reintroduced. "The schools are hungry to do this."
In a February 2017 report on language learning by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — the first of its kind in 30 years — a commission insisted the U.S. is currently at a "competitive disadvantage in a global society."
The report, which was requested by a bipartisan group of Congress members, recommended a national strategy to improve language access, including the addition of language teachers and promoting opportunities for students to learn languages in other countries.
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