The LEAPS Act, also known as Learning for English Academic Proficiency and Success, became law as part of the omnibus education bill during Minnesota's 2014 legislative session. The clear theme of this legislation is to move from a deficit mindset to an asset mindset. English Learners have a great deal to offer Minnesota communities and the value of their linguistic and cultural heritage should not be overlooked. Although the LEAPS Act has been part of Minnesota law for many months, there are still many questions surrounding what this means for teachers and for schools.
The LEAPS Act, championed by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL - 65B) and Sen. Patricia Torres Rey (DFL - 63), includes a number a requirements and recommendations for Minnesota districts. One of the primary goals is to support early English language learners in Minnesota and prioritize parental involvement. The LEAPS Act will require early education programs, like Head Start, to use culturally relevant approaches to literacy. Programs will be directed to keep parents informed on their child’s language development, and local school boards will be encouraged to implement family involvement policies that support communication in families’ native languages.
In addition, another important goal of the LEAPS Act is to prepare all educators to teach English language learners in the classroom. Teacher candidates will be required to be prepared to support both language development and content instruction for English Learners. This requirement includes implementation of research-based practices designed specifically for English Learners. The LEAPS Act also emphasizes the importance of culturally and linguistically relevant instruction for both teachers and administrators.
Finally, schools are required to implement systemic changes and enhance institutional focus on English language learner success. School districts must include strategies for improving instruction for English learners and must provide translation to the extent practicable. The LEAPS Act's clear focus on cross-cultural communication and cultural awareness is coupled with a strong emphasis on supporting native language literacy for young children to adults.
I am excited that this legislation is shining a spotlight on the unique needs of English Learners and their families and I hope that Minnesota districts will step up to the plate in each and every aspect of legislative implementation. For more information on what it will take to meet the challenges of the LEAPS Act, you can examine Food for Thought, a report commissioned by The McKnight Foundation.