WASHINGTON – The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) on Thursday announced that Californians Together is one of four recipients of its 2012 E Pluribus Unum Prizes for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives. The national award honors Californians Together for its work promoting biliteracy and reforms that improve student language learning and address the needs of English language learners.
Established in 1998, Californians Together is a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates, school administrators, school board members and civil-rights groups that works to secure a quality education for children. Led by experienced, respected education experts, the non-profit mobilizes communities and policymakers in California to tackle the state’s K – 12 education challenges, focusing in particular on its 1.4 million English language learners (ELLs) — the largest state ELL population in the nation.
In 2008, Californians Together developed the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given by a school, school district or county office of education in recognition of students who attain a high level of proficiency in two or more languages (including English) by high school graduation. In 2012, more than 10,000 students earned the first-in-the-nation state recognition for biliteracy, demonstrating proficiency in one or more of 40 different languages, including American Sign Language.
Californians Together has also been instrumental in focusing state and national policymakers’ attention on the numbers and needs of long-term ELLs — those who have been in U.S. schools for many years without mastering English.
The E Pluribus Unum Prizes program, established in 2008 by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy with generous support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, seeks to encourage the adoption of effective integration practices and inspire others to take on the important work of integrating immigrants and their children so they can join the mainstream of U.S. society.
The 2012 E Pluribus Unum Prizes winners will be honored at a ceremony in Baltimore, MD, on September 24 during the annual National Immigrant Integration Conference. The national award is accompanied by a $50,000 prize.
“The Seal of Biliteracy is a simple but powerful policy innovation that is having an impact not just in California but nationwide: New York is now following suit and adopting the seal and other states are now considering it as well. The award recognizes that linguistic diversity is not a problem, but an asset for immigrant and U.S.-born students alike in today’s globalized world,” said Michael Fix, MPI senior vice president and co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.
“Californians Together has built an uncommonly successful policy model. By bringing virtually all education stakeholders to the table — from school administrators to teachers unions and parents’ groups — the coalition is able to leverage their unique understanding of the state’s education system,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “The skill sets and relationships of the group’s leaders and members allow it to cover all the important bases of education reform: from research and policy development, to state and district level policy adoption to then even shaping classroom-level practices.”
The Seal of Biliteracy is just one of the successful campaigns undertaken by Californians Together. Another important focus has been the important overlooked issue of long-term ELLs, the subject of the organization’s widely cited report Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners. The coalition’s work on the issue is leading to changes in state law: establishing standard definitions to better identify and assist ELL students, and improving state and district curricula, instruction and assessments.
“We believe our work informing broad legislation and policies has altered the framework for ELL instruction statewide. And it has shaped classroom practices that improve the daily instruction ELLs receive,” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together.
In championing smart policy change, the organization has earned the respect of leaders in the education field. “Californians Together has made great strides in addressing the challenges that English language learners face and aiding the work of school districts and educators. The organization has generated real, significant momentum among educators, policymakers and members of the community to better meet student education needs,” said Tom Torlakson, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The other 2012 winners of the $50,000 E Pluribus Unum Prize are Building Skills Partnership, an innovative union-business alliance in California that provides on-the-job instruction to janitors and other low-wage property service workers; and metro Detroit-area ACCESS, the largest Arab American human services provider in the United States. The Prizes program’s 2012 Corporate Leadership Award was given to Citi Community Development for its work reducing financial barriers to citizenship.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.