Barbara Howard: Gov. Charlie Baker is reviewing a bill that would effectively repeal a 15-year-old law that essentially banned bilingual education for immigrants in public schools. The repeal of those limitations was passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate yesterday. If signed into law by Baker, school districts would then be freed up to consider optional teaching methods. WGBH Radio's education reporter Bianca Vazquez-Toness has been following the bill closely and is with us in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

Vazquez-Toness: Thanks for having me.

Howard: So how are immigrant students being taught right now?

Vazquez-Toness: The majority of immigrant students are immersed in English from the get-go. They might be given a special English class that's catered to them at the beginning of their schooling, but then they're put in mainstream classes that are all in English.

Howard: What's wrong with that? Why would people be opposed to that?

Vazquez-Toness: Well, school districts — some school districts — and some advocates for immigrants say that that's really restrictive. It doesn't give teachers enough options to cater education to kids. They also say that if you look at research, and the research does bear out, that immigrant students do as well if not better in bilingual education than they do in English-only education.

Howard: So what does a new bill do? How is it different?

Vazquez-Toness: The new bill would give districts more options. They could keep doing what they're doing. That's [the] all English approach. Or they could teach students in their core subjects — math and science and history — in their native language, while also teaching them more and more English eventually moving them into all English classes.

Howard: So the core subjects like history, you kind of have to understand the concept. So if you're not learning it in your native language, you can fall behind?

Vazquez-Toness: That's the point. And that's what people say is happening when kids are learning in all English. The argument is — and researchers say that this is true — that if you don't know English and you are in a math class or a science class or history class, you are not going to get those concepts as well as you would if you knew English.

Howard: OK, so you can do it the way we've been doing it, do it this new way, or the third option. There's another option?

Vazquez-Toness: The third option, which has always existed, which is called dual-language, dual- immersion programs, which is where say you know half the kids speak Spanish and half the kids speak English and they learn together — half the time in English and half the time in Spanish. Only about a dozen school districts right now in Massachusetts have those programs. And under this, maybe more would be adopted, too.

Howard: OK. The bill also, what would it do for families?

Vazquez-Toness: This bill is interesting because it gives parents more power, more control to compel a district to change or add its programs. For instance, if 20 or more Haitian Creole speaking parents request that their kids be taught in Haitian Creole, the district has to respond within 90 days with the plan to address the request or if they deny it, they have to respond in writing and include their explanation.

Howard: How many kids are we talking about?

Vazquez-Toness: This is 10 percent of the school population. Ten percent are considered English language learners. So, it's a big number.

Howard: Well, OK thanks for joining us, Bianca.

Vazquez-Toness: Thanks for having me.

Howard: That's WGBH Radio's Bianca Vazquez-Toness. She has been following the progress of a bill to re-establish bilingual education in Massachusetts. It passed the House and the Senate yesterday. It’s now on the desk of Governor Charlie Baker.