Schools can meet an ex­pressed de­mand for bilin­gual work­ers, ex­perts say

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY PERRY STEIN perry.stein@wash­post.com

Ad­vo­cates for bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion and District lead­ers ar­gued Thurs­day that the Washington re­gion’s work­force has a grow­ing de­mand for bilin­gual speak­ers that could be filled by D.C. pub­lic school grad­u­ates if the school sys­tem boosts its dual-lan­guage pro­grams.

The panel dis­cus­sion fea­tured D.C. Pub­lic Schools Chan­cel­lor Ant­wan Wil­son, school lead­ers from Delaware and New York, an eco­nomics re­searcher, and the Swiss am­bas­sador to the United States, who high­lighted the ad­van­tages of bilin­gual­ism in Switzer­land.

Hsi-Ling Liao pre­sented her re­search from the New Amer­i­can Econ­omy, show­ing a 148 per­cent jump in bilin­gual job post­ings in the Washington re­gion since 2010 and a 131 per­cent bump in job post­ings call­ing for at least some sec­ond-lan­guage skills. The ma­jor­ity of th­ese jobs are for Span­ish-speak­ers, though a sig- nif­i­cant num­ber of em­ploy­ers are seek­ing pro­fi­ciency in French, Ara­bic and Chi­nese.

In 2016, the top em­ployer seek­ing bilin­gual can­di­dates in the re­gion was the MGM Na­tional Har­bor ho­tel and casino, which posted 465 such jobs, ac­cord­ing to the New Amer­i­can Econ­omy study. Bank of Amer­ica and Wells Fargo also sought those em­ploy­ees, post­ing 415 and 393 bilin­gual jobs, re­spec­tively, in 2016.

Wil­son, who took the helm of the school sys­tem about three months ago, said that in­creas­ing lan­guage im­mer­sion pro­grams in schools was a top pri­or­ity for him.

“D.C. has an op­por­tu­nity to lead the coun­try in this work,” he said. “It’s high on my list to get done.”

The chan­cel­lor re­ferred to stud­ies show­ing that stu­dents en­rolled in dual-lan­guage pro­grams also per­form bet­ter in English and other sub­jects, in­clud­ing math. Other stud­ies in­di­cate that the suc­cess of such pro­grams hinges on how ef­fec­tive bilin­gual teach­ers are in the class­room.

Dual-lan­guage op­tions are in high de­mand in the District, with the 14 tra­di­tional pub­lic and char­ter ele­men­tary schools of­fer­ing such pro­grams, with long wait­ing lists, each year. This aca­demic year, D.C. Pub­lic Schools opened its first dual-lan­guage school east of the Ana­cos­tia River — Hous­ton Ele­men­tary.

Also on the panel Thurs­day, An­gel­ica In­fante-Green, deputy com­mis­sioner of the New York State Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment’s Of­fice of In­struc­tional Sup­port, stressed that dual-lan­guage pro­grams should not be re­served for tra­di­tion­ally high-achiev­ing schools. “This is for all kids,” she said. The DC Lan­guage Im­mer­sion Project and DC Work­force In­vest­ment Coun­cil Hosted the event at the down­town Washington of­fices of Perkins East­man, an ar­chi­tec­ture firm that de­signs schools.

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