California's Gold | An Advocacy Framework for Young Dual Language Learners

About this Framework

This framework opens a dialogue about how to integrate preschool with the early primary grades and improve DLL/EL education. It marks an opportunity for improvement in early childhood education on behalf of Dual Language Learners (DLLs), and encourages new state policy developments seeking to advance the education of older English language learners.

This framework is intended for a variety of advocacy audiences, who we expect will have different uses for it: (1) longstanding DLL early childhood advocates in need of a forum for coordinating and planning their advocacy and messaging; (2) early childhood education advocates new to DLL issues who seek to learn about this issue and incorporate it into their advocacy; and (3) K-12 English Learner advocates interested in magnifying the importance of early childhood in their advocacy.

The education of California’s youngest children is a shared responsibility of both early childhood and TK-12 educators. Consideration of how language and culture influences the educational trajectory of DLLs is needed in addressing the development of English proficiency, in nurturing emerging bilingualism and for the development of a positive sense of identity. In particular, attention to the education and success of DLLs/ELs is necessary if we are to address the challenges they face in developing the English proficiency skills needed for school learning and in nurturing their emergent bilingualism and positive sense of identity. The four action areas elevated in this Framework — workforce development, curriculum and instruction, assessment, and PreK-3 alignment — are critical components of high-quality early education.  If actions in all these areas take language and culture into account, the results would represent a sea change for the education of DLLs and contribute to the strength of the overarching early childhood education system.

This Framework is an opportunity for marked improvement early childhood education on behalf of DLLs, and to complement exciting new state policy developments that are seeking to advance the education of older EL students.

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Why This Matters

As the state continues to advance early childhood education, the unique characteristics of DLLs including their emerging bilingualism and their cultural strengths need to be integrated into our policies and practices. DLLs make up one in four children in the state’s TK-12 system, and 60 percent of California’s children age birth to five live in a household where a language other than English is spoken. If adequately supported, DLLs will make valuable contributions to the state’s multicultural identity, and its economy. If their language and culture are not nurtured in these early years, the state not only risks losing potential social and economic benefits from DLLs’ bilingualism but also also imperils children’s future prospects as they fall behind their monolingual peers in and out of the classroom.

About the Author

Marlene Zepeda is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, Dr. Zepeda has done extensive work on the dual language learning of Spanish-speaking preschool children and child development in Latino infants and toddlers. For the California State Department of Education, she led a group of national experts in developing California’s Early Learning Foundations for English Language Development for 3- and 4-year-olds. Dr. Zepeda has authored publications focused on the development of dual language learners, including a set of teacher competencies for these children. She has studied the efficacy of a curriculum developed for Spanish-speaking preschoolers learning English and is currently collaborating on a project comparing the utility of two assessment tools for examining pedagogical practice with dual language learners.

Dr. Zepeda served on the Technical Working Group for the National Center for Early Care and Education Research: Dual Language Learners and on the Research Advisory Board to Los Angeles County’s Office of Child Care Steps to Excellence Project (STEP), a quality rating system for early education settings. She is a member of the Campaign for Quality Early Education, a California advocacy group that advocates  on behalf of dual language learners, and serves on the Los Angeles County First 5 Commission. Marlene Zepeda received her B.A. in Child Development from California State University, Los Angeles and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Developmental Studies and Early Childhood Education from the University of California, Los Angeles.


This report and the associated web materials were funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

To cite this work, please use: Zepeda, M. (2017, November 13). California’s Gold: An Advocacy Framework for Young Dual Language Learners. Retrieved from

Key Areas for Action

California’s Gold elevates four areas for action that are critical to a high-quality PreK-3rd grade system. If attended to, these areas could significantly advance the education of DLLs and strengthen the state's early learning system.
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    Workforce Development
    A strong workforce of teachers and administrators responsive to the unique learning needs of DLLs.
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    Curriculum & Instruction
    Curricular and instructional models and resources attuned to the diverse learning needs of DLLs.
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  • HSF-1647_Key Factor Icons_Final
    Assessment approaches that more accurately depict and measure how DLLs are learning.
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    An Aligned PreK-3 System
    An integrated early childhood and TK-12 system that recognizes the importance of continuity and coherence with the early childhood period and that meets the needs of DLLs.
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