DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas College of Education professor Dina Castro has been named to the Steering Committee leading the Texans Care for Children Early Childhood English Learner Initiative, working to help Texas children from birth to age 8 whose primary language is not English.
“We have a significant opportunity to boost educational achievement in Texas by ensuring English Learner children succeed. The state’s recent approach has proven inadequate, with just 35 percent of ELs on grade level in third grade reading in 2017-2018, compared to 46 percent of non-ELs,” Castro said.
She said that young children who are learning their home language while also learning English make up 49 percent of the young child population (birth to age 8) in Texas, and across all grades of school, 1 in 5 Texas students are designated as an English Learner.
The initiative will consider the effectiveness of early childhood classroom and program strategies, assessments and how children are referred to the appropriate programs. It will also examine teacher preparation, professional development, workforce gaps, data collection challenges and more.
Castro is currently working with other members of the Steering Committee to convene community voices and experts on English Learners, early childhood care and education, and education policy. Additionally, the committee is gathering information from a statewide survey to identify major challenges and opportunities to support young English Learners during the current pandemic-related homeschooling and beyond.
She expects that they will have recommendations prepared by late 2020 and be able to work with stakeholders, including legislators, state agencies, school districts and child care centers, to work on proposals.
“Helping students become bilingual has well-documented cognitive benefits for children and strengthens the ability of the state to compete in a global, multilingual economy. When young children develop their literacy skills in their home language, it speeds up their ability to learn English and other subjects. Fortunately, early childhood teachers can cultivate English skills while ensuring that the first language continues to flourish,” Castro said. “This initiative is an opportunity to use research to inform a policy initiative geared to advance equity in the education of English Learners in Texas.”
Leaders of the steering committee include Castro and representatives from the Intercultural Development Research Association, Texans Care for Children and Texas Association for the Education of Young Children.