Dual Language – A Civil Right for Language Minority Students

Dual Language programs are programs that intend for students to become bilingual and biliterate in English and a target language. The program aims to accomplish this by teaching at least 50% of all academic content in the non-English language. Because Dual Language programs are the only programs known to close the opportunity gap between students identified as Emergent Bilinguals (also known as English Language Learners) and students who are monolingual English speakers, Dual Language Education is a Civil Right for all Emergent Bilinguals.

The path to attaining this Civil Right began as most Civil Rights are attained – in the courts. The parents of Kinney Kinmon Lau and other students of Chinese background took the San Francisco Unified School District to Court for not providing language supports to their children. On January 21, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols that Emergent Bilinguals have the right to a “meaningful opportunity to participate in the public education program.” Furthermore, the ruling declared that not providing students with language supports effectively violated § 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress responded with the Equal Education Opportunities Act, which required districts to work to “overcome language barriers that impede equal participation.”

In order to determine how best to overcome language barriers, various models of English as a Second Language instruction were tried. In response, national studies were conducted, comparing Dual Language Education, Transitional Bilingual Education, ESL Push-In (Content ELD), and ESL Pull-Out programs.

The above graph represents the results of these studies. The dashed line represents the average score of monolingual, English speakers on standardized English Language Arts exams. The colored lines represent the average scores of students in various Emergent Bilingual programs. The space between the colored lines and the dashed line is the opportunity gap. As noted on the graph, at first, the opportunity gap becomes smaller for students in all programs. However, by fourth grade, there is a substantial difference between how well students in ESL/ELD programs and students in Bilingual programs perform. Students in Transitional Bilingual and Dual Language classes are clearly performing at higher levels although still not as well as their monolingual, English-speaking peers. However, by 5th grade, Two-Way Dual Language programs have effectively closed the opportunity gap for students since students in the Two-Way Dual Language programs are now, on average, scoring the same as the average monolingual, English speaker. By 7th grade, One-Way Dual Language programs have also closed the opportunity gap for students. None of the other programs ever accomplish the same. Hence, only the top two programs, Two-Way and One-Way Dual Language Education, effectively provide the opportunities necessary for students to “overcome language barriers that impede equal participation” in accordance with the Equal Education Opportunities Act.

Hence, for Emergent Bilinguals, Dual Language is not a privilege. It’s not what we should do if there is extra money lying around, or if we feel like making our kids bilingual. It’s not a bonus. It is a Civil Right that we should provide if we intend to give all our students an equitable education in accordance with the law.


  1. […] Have you tried talking to White colleagues, friends, or family members about White privilege, only to hear back from them how offended they are because they too have had to struggle in life and therefore, could not have had any privilege?  This scenario is far too common, especially when trying to talk to people who know very little about racial structures and caste issues.  These are the same people who believe in the myth of meritocracy and the achievement gap.  These are often the same people who believe themselves to be White saviors because they work at schools with poor children of minority backgrounds or engage in some other types of service.  These are the same people who often cannot understand the need for Dual Language Education. […]


  2. […] programs, no matter how successful or how well established, are always endangered. The role of Dual Language Education (DLE) in social justice is clear as we know that it is the only English Learner program that closes the […]


  3. […] Dual Language Education is a social justice movement for students who speak a Language Other Than English (LOTE) at home because it is the only language acquisition program research proven to close the opportunity gap for students identified as Emergent Bilinguals.  However, as demonstrated by various studies (Urow & Beeman 2013; Thomas & Collier, 2004) when the nonnegotiables of Dual Language Education are not followed, we do not successfully close the opportunity gap for our students. […]


  4. […] Does this mean that monolingual administrators cannot at all interact with students?  Of course not.  Learn a few key phrases such as “Good morning,” and “What are you doing?” and don’t forget to smile!  Smiles are universal.  You may or may not understand the response and the conversation may not be as in-depth as when you enter a classroom during English time, but that’s okay.  It will be uncomfortable to have to limit how much you speak, especially if you are as extroverted as I am, but remember that that discomfort is the same discomfort that our students’ families experience daily.  This discomfort in fact should remind us of the importance of ensuring cultural relevance in our schools and districts.  So feel the discomfort, work at learning the language (but give yourself time as it takes 5-7 years to learn a language), and be grateful that your students are getting an opportunity to develop their linguistic repertoire in two languages. Remember that when it comes to our Emergent Bilinguals, it is their Civil Rights. […]


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