Preschools aren't doing enough to support bilingual kids, study finds

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When Karla Medina Gomez's two oldest children, Gianna and Nicholas, began pre-K they only knew Spanish. At that time, Medina Gomez only spoke to her children in Spanish while at home in Newark, New Jersey, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the Garden State.


So when Medina Gomez enrolled them in preschool, she worried they may face challenges learning in an English-only environment. But that wasn't the case at Ironbound Early Learning Center—the siblings, now 13 and 12 years old, respectively, received an inclusive and accessible education. Within the first four months, they were able to speak both Spanish and English fluently. According to a study out of the University of Oregon, adding a second language like that helps kids have more control over behavior and attention span.

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"All paperwork, all communications, even [items] in the classroom, everything is labeled in three languages," Medina Gomez tells Motherly. "Here, specifically in Newark, the support system is great in the preschool setting."

Medina Gomez's children are among the nearly 1 in 3 kids in the United States raised in families that speak a language other than English at home. In education speak, those kids are considered dual language learners. But the mom of four's situation is more of the exception than the rule. Despite the documented benefits of bilingualism for children, many kids aren't getting the support they need to succeed in multiple language settings.

Research shows that, while most state-funded preschool programs do have some dual language learning policies in place, the majority of those programs are still ill-equipped to meet the needs of bilingual children.

That's because more than half of all 60 public preschool programs across the country fail to report the home language of children, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)'s annual "State of Preschool" report, released this week. And without that information, states can't allocate the proper resources needed to develop and implement effective dual language curriculum and practices, the report's writers say.

"We are continually striving to close achievement gaps, including those between children who speak a language other than English at home and children who speak only English," says Ellen Frede, the institute's senior co-director. "We know the earlier we start with high-quality education programs, the better."

The nationwide survey, which gives a comprehensive look into the current state of the U.S. preschool system, found that only 26 public programs in 24 states—including California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas, which all have high percentage of dual language learners in their populations—collect data on children's home language. On average, dual language students in those states accounted for 29% of preschoolers enrolled in public programs; nationwide, about 23% of all preschool-aged children are dual language learners, the report found.

What's more: Three of the states that don't report on home language—Arizona, Florida and New York—also have some of the highest number of preschool-aged children living in non-English speaking households, according to the NIEER report. By not soliciting that data, those states have no quantifiable clue as to how many young bilingual students they're serving in their state-funded preschool programs. And that puts those kids at a disadvantage when it comes to development and academic achievement, experts say.

"We know that dual language learners are a group that makes the largest gains from attending high-quality preschool," says NIEER Senior Co-director Steven Barnett. "At the same time, they're at elevated risk of school failure."

Academic outcomes are, in part, driven by language proficiency. Research shows that, on average, dual language learners, start school with lower English literacy skills than their native English speaking counterparts. It takes dual language students four to seven years to become proficient enough in English that they see classroom success, according to the Center for Public Education.

To that end, a 2012 Early Childhood Research Quarterly study found that dual language students who were able to speak English well enough by the end of first grade fared better academically than those who weren't. "For all children, the preschool years are a critical time for language development," Barnett says.

That's why, experts say, it's critical for states to invest in dual language initiatives, starting with collecting data on how many non-native speaking preschoolers are in their state-funded programs. Not only that, but more states, even the ones that do report n home language, need to enact policies supporting dual language learners in and outside of the classroom.

More than 30 states have some type of policy in place related to serving dual language, according to the NIEER report. But only one—Maine—has implemented all nine recommended policy requirements, including providing materials in the language spoken by their parents. And, despite research showing that qualified teachers are vital to providing high-quality education, only six—California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas—mandate that staff have training or qualifications necessary to work with dual language learners and their families, the report found.

And that's a shame, Medina Gomez says. She knows that if it weren't for the dedicated, trained staff at Ironbound, Giana and Nicholas wouldn't be as academically successful as they are today. "How are you going to [ask] a child to jump two steps, make a circle [or] build a block, if you tell them in English and they don't understand you?" she tells Motherly. "How would they know? How could you possibly measure where the child's at?"

Luckily there are things parents can do to help their kids succeed no matter what the situation may be at school. Medina Gomez suggests that parents read, sing, and talk to their children as often as possible, no matter what the language.

She does recognize, though, that some parents may be hesitant because they don't speak a second language well, or at all. But Medina Gomez says that, in the end, that doesn't matter. "Expose them to language," she tells Motherly. "That's what's important right now."

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With American officials now cautioning that Coronavirus outbreaks are highly likely within the 50 states, experts are also urging schools and businesses to prepare for disruptions. If it comes to this, the United States can follow Hong Kong's model—where protests through the fall shut down schools and then the threat of Coronavirus led classrooms to shutter again through the majority of winter.

With schools closed and the city effectively on lockdown as the threat of Coronavirus touched all aspects of public life, students around Hong Kong have been forced to adjust to virtual schooling, and that means mothers have been forced to adjust, too.

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"Extending the class suspension has been a difficult decision. Yet as the WHO [World Health Organization] predicted, the epidemic will last for a while and the Bureau thinks it is the safest decision to ensure the physical well-being of students," said Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung in a press statement this week, announcing the decision to push back opening schools until April 20.

For American mom Arcadia Kim and her family, this effectively put their lives in Hong Kong on standstill even though they were all healthy. Rather than wait it out in Hong Kong, the family decided to "self-quarantine" in Hawaii earlier at the beginning of February which they were able to do as American citizens. As the family hastily packed up their lives with just one hour of notice, they included their digital tablets and laptops—which have since become not only their lifelines to home, but also the children's method for schooling.

"Online classes and virtual school look like 'ready player one,'" says Kim, who runs Infinite Screentime, which helps families strike a better balance with screens. "[It's like] some dystopian future where you are plugged into the matrix."

Although screen time is a stressful topic among many modern parents, Kim had a unique vantage point on the perks and pitfalls: A former chief operating officer for Electronic Arts, Los Angeles, she was closely involved in the development of some of the most popular video games in the world—and understands exactly how they were created to be addictive.

After being conscious of her children's screen time throughout their lives, it felt strange for her to encourage them to log hours upon hours on their computers in the name of school. "They are in front of their computers for nearly six hours a day," she says of her children's virtual schooling. "It looks crazy, but this is crazy."

Still, for being pushed into this new way of schooling that they didn't request, Kim was impressed by the way her children quickly adjusted. Whereas they could have lost one year of education, the Kim children now wake up across the ocean from their school, log on by 8 a.m. to receive their assignments and then get to work for the day—which looks like anything from the 13-year-old Skyping with a tutor who is a PhD candidate in microbiology, the 7-year-old assessing the symmetry of objects using a tablet, or the 10-year-old learning scratch programming.

To provide a counterbalance at the end of the screen time-rich school day, the family makes a point of getting out and exploring their new surroundings.

While the circumstances in Hong Kong may be unique, students, parents and educators from around the world are embracing online classrooms for a variety of reasons. According to a 2019 report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), nearly 300,000 K-12 students in the United States were enrolled in full-time virtual schools.

However, experts from NEPC, a research organization based out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, expressed concern about the effectiveness of virtual schooling—which is still somewhat of an unregulated, "wild west" approach to education. Notably, the graduation rate from virtual schools is approximately 50 percent while the national average for public schools is 85%.

"Given the lack of understanding of what is actually happening in virtual education, policymakers should require that any virtual school operating in their jurisdiction be required to provide the necessary information to examine the effectiveness of the virtual education that is actually being provided," the authors suggested in the report.

Kim agrees the downsides to virtual schooling remain clear, especially because educators in Hong Kong had to scramble to offer this option on such short notice. "There are some things that seem better and more conducive to learning online than other things," she says. "Can a 7-year-old really understand the significance of the Day of Death by watching YouTube videos only? It would have been much cooler if they could have done the dress-up festival like the school had planned."

Yet Kim says her eyes truly have been opened to the possibilities that virtual schooling presents through this experience—even as she's looking forward to her children having the chance to go back to their normal classrooms. "This is going to be the future," she says. "[Online school] will force kids to be more self-reliant and motivated. Parents will need to be more flexible about what is to come."

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The grey days of winter are coming to an end and spring is in the air! ? The sidewalks will no longer be icy and soon flowers will start poking up. This month is a wonderful time to become a mother, and a pretty great month to be born, too.

Here's what science tells us about babies born in March:

1. They're likely to climb the corporate ladder

Babies born this month are the most likely to get that corner office when they grow up. Research indicates a higher percentage of CEOs are born in March than any other month.

One study of 375 CEOs found 12.5% of those holding the position were born in March. The link is thought to be related to school enrollment cutoffs which often see March babies on the older end of their class spectrum.

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2. They're less prone to myopia than their summer cousins

While those expecting in June or July might want to up their optometry coverage, March babies are more likely than their summer-born peers to pass an eye exam. A study of nearly 300,000 military applicants found summer babies have the highest rates of severe short-sightedness, while spring kids are less likely to have myopic eyes (winter-born kids have the best rates, though).

3. They're naturally optimistic

A 2014 study found March-born babies (and their April and May peers) are basically born optimists. They have high ratings on the hyperthymic scale as adults, which means they've got a positive outlook on life.

4. They're at lower risk for asthma

Dust mites are abundant at this time of year, and while it can be annoying for those with allergies, it's great for babies with March due dates. According to a 2015 study, kids born in the have lower rates of asthma because exposure to all those dust mites in infancy strengthens the immune response.

5. They'll probably be a night owl

One sleep study suggests children born in the spring and summer generally go to bed later than those born in the fall and winter, so your March baby is likely to want to stay up past their bedtime in a few short years.

6. They'll be a Pisces or an Aries

These two astrological signs are known for their determination and passion, respectively. Babies born between March 1 and March 20 are known as optimistic Pisces, while those born after March 20 are officially spring babies members of the Aries sign. Aries are known for being fiery and passionate, so you might want to start practicing for bedtime arguments with your future night owl right away.

[This post was originally published March 1, 2018]

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Most babies enter the world in a flurry of tears—but not Isabela Pereira de Jesus. Instead, this baby girl, who was born on February 13, came into the world with a scowl on her face...and she's going viral for it.

Isabela was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to mama Daiane de Jesus Barbosa. According to Rodrigo Kunstmann, the photographer hired to capture images from the birth, the baby didn't shed a tear when she came into the world.

"She opened her eyes wide but did not cry. The doctor even had to say, 'cry, Isa!',"the photographer told Brazilian magazine Crescer. "She made that serious expression and only started crying after the umbilical cord was cut."

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Having a babe who opted to do something other than cry at birth may not seem so out of the ordinary, but wait until you see this baby girl's face at birth. Her mean mug is hilariously adorable—think furrowed brow, downturned lips and overall expression that can only be described as "unimpressed."

"My baby was born courageous," Isabela's mother said, according to a report from Daily Mail. "It's a meme already. She always wrinkles her forehead when changing diapers and nursing."

Not surprisingly, the photo of the baby's expression has become a global sensation, with outlets all over the world sharing the image. The photographer's Facebook post featuring images of the birth is gaining major traction as well. "This little lady is going to lead her parents on a merry chase," one user commented. Another added: "No, put me back! Haha."

This perfect capture is just too good for words! What was going through the baby's head in the moment, we wonder? The photographer has one idea: "Today is my birth and I don't even have clothes for this," he captioned the photo of baby Isabela's hilarious scowl.

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The anecdote went viral on LinkedIn and Facebook: An executive noticed one of his employees, a mother, crying at her desk. She explained that her child is sick, she had no sick days left and couldn't afford to miss work. He wrote her a check and sent her home to her child. It's a modern-day working mom fairytale.

The male executive is the hero in the story, but frustrated women who were raised on Spice Girls-era girl power don't want to wait around for someone else to set them free from punishing corporate policies. These women want to be their own heroes (and their own bosses). And when a friend slides into their DMs to tell them they can be, well, they desperately want to believe it.

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But the hard truth is that girl power never completely grew up to become women's empowerment and a culture that paid lip service to gender equality without making progress primed a generation of mothers to be the perfect targets for multi-level marketing (or MLMs as they're commonly referred to).

A population already burdened with so much unpaid work in the service of their families ended up doing even more unpaid labor to serve companies' bottom lines, and we need to ask ourselves why.

We have entered an era of MLM reckoning. The alarm is sounding about the damage MLMs can do to women and their families but if you listen closely, there is another sound here: The sound of opportunity for companies that can actually live up to some of the promises MLM fails to keep.

The era of MLM backlash

For years multilevel marketing got a pretty decent edit in popular culture—the pink Cadillacs helped—but in recent years a new awareness has been building. Debunking the myth of MLMs is in vogue.

It's been more three years since John Oliver's critique of the industry went viral and the documentary Betting on Zero, which details the controversy surrounding one MLM company, was released. There are several popular podcasts detailing the downside of MLMs, and multiple subreddits, Facebook groups and online communities dedicated to advocating against a business model in which 75% of the salesforce doesn't turn a profit.

It seems consumers are becoming more MLM-savvy, but this new awareness came at the expense of so many mothers. Thankfully, the media has been taking notice, especially of LulaRoe, an MLM empire built on leggings and female empowerment but plagued by lawsuits and stories of women gone bankrupt.

By the industry's own admission 75% of people who sign up to sell for an MLM company are women. The Direct Selling Association, the MLM industry's national trade association states that the average direct seller makes $5,702 in retail sales but the AARP Foundation suggests that more than half of those in MLMs who make money make less than $5,000 in a year and that the majority (73%) of sellers either break even or lose money.

If you've been on the internet much in the last couple of years you probably already know this. Vice did a documentary on it. Truth in Advertising released an investigative piece. From The Washington Post to the Huffington Post, media was busy in 2019 telling us that MLM are hurting women.

The question is, are we ready to stop the pain?

But in 2020 women are still joining MLMs because these companies are offering something that is missing from the lives of so many: Support and a flexible opportunity.

Motherly's second annual State of Motherhood survey found 85% of moms don't think society understands or supports mothers, and that while financial need is the top reason for moms participating in the workforce, "desire to participate in work outside the household" is a significant motivational factor as well. Today's moms need and want to work, but they want to work for companies that don't expect them to pretend they don't have children. The survey suggests that some moms are leaving their jobs because of the "inability to strike a work-life balance or the work culture not being supportive."

When asked what would help, moms said longer, paid maternity leave, childcare, flexible schedules and remote work opportunities. MLMs promise mothers the flexible, remote jobs they so desperately want.

Motherly's survey isn't the only one to highlight the need for better work-life balance. A recent survey by Flex Jobs found more than half of stay-at-home parents stay out of the workforce longer than they would like to.

"Without flexible work options, for example, 36% of stay-at-home parents we surveyed said that they actually wanted to return to work but their job was too inflexible to accommodate their needs as a working parent. Thirty-four percent turned to freelancing to bring in some income while staying at home with their kids, and 11% tried multi-level marketing businesses," explains Brie Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs.

It's clear that there is an eager talent pool that is going untapped, and Reynolds is hoping to see that 11% go down as more legitimate companies offer the kinds of opportunities parents are seeking. According to Reynolds, the number of people working remotely in the U.S. has increased 159% between 2005 and 2017.

"The most common work-from-home job titles include a huge range of professions, showing that companies are applying remote work to a wide variety of professions: teacher, writer, developer, analyst, sales representative, nurse, accountant, and project manager, for example. Hopefully, as more legitimate remote jobs become available, the need for parents to try risky MLM programs to find the flexibility they need will greatly diminish," she says.

Anti-MLM advocates say awareness of the problem isn't enough

Katie Young is the co-host of the podcast Sounds Like MLM but OK, which examines the impact of MLMs on sellers, and an administrator for a Facebook group by the same name. The group has more than 130,000 members, some of whom have been in, and left, the MLM industry.

"The former sellers are a really solid chunk of people that are joining this community because they are the people that have been personally impacted by the harm that the companies can do," Young explains.

According to Young, the promise of profit isn't the only thing prompting women to sign up to sell candles, shakes and clothing: It's also the promise of a supportive community. Additionally, Young believes MLM recruitment tactics prey on mom guilt.

"It's like, 'Don't you want to stay home with your kids? Don't you want to be the one to raise them?' There's a lot of pressure and a lot of shame," says Young, who adds that when messages like these come from a friend they carry more weight.

"They're making people feel bad about the way that they're living their lives and thinking that they're going to be better people and better parents by joining those these companies," she says.

Young hopes that the public backlash against MLM companies, combined with more flexible and legitimate work opportunities will help prevent more people from being hurt, but she is not holding her breath.

She believes MLMs will not lose their luster until lawmakers take action against them and non-MLM companies realize what parents are up against, because even in the era of MLM reckoning, when Googling a company serves up so many headlines about devastated sellers, people are still signing up.

The MLM horror stories shared in Young's Facebook group and the viral Facebook post about the hero executive have one thing in common: They shouldn't have happened. And if we create a culture that supports working parents we can stop them from happening again.

[This post was originally published on Apparently on September 24, 2019. It has been updated.]

[We reached out to LulaRoe for this story but have not heard back from the company. We also reached out to Herbalife and the Direct Selling Association. In response to this article the organization provided several links to its website. The Direct Selling Association also provided a link to its statement on LulaRoe (which is not a member of the DSA) in which it references the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC) administered by the BBB National Programs with the main goal of ensuring consumer protection. ]

[Correction, February 26, 2020: A previous version of this post stated "the average direct seller makes $5,702 in profit," but according to the Direct Selling Association "the $5,702 amount represents retail sales not profit."]

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