5 Steps for Ensuring That Your Dual Language Program Is Still A Strong, Equity-Based Dual Language Program

We owe it to our students to monitor our Dual Language Programs for Equity and Success. Are we closing the opportunity gap? Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Dr. Jose Medina, one of the authors of the Guiding Principles of Dual Language, famously said, “Dual language Programs not grounded in equidad y justicia social (equity and social justice) are NOT dual language programs.” I couldn’t agree more. Two-Way Dual Language Programs are measured by how well they are servicing their emergent bilinguals… those students who enter the program speaking the Language Other Than English (LOTE) at home. This is a point that we cannot forget.

Successful vs. Unsuccessful Dual Language Programs  

In Dual Language – A Civil Rights for Language Minority Students, I have spoken about why Dual Language programs are imperative at districts with large numbers of students who speak the same language at home.  The research demonstrates that well run Dual Language programs not only close the opportunity gap for students who are still gaining proficiency in English but are the only programs that do so.  However, the key in this statement is that the program must be well run.

The above graph by Thomas and Collier (2001-2009) is a meta-analysis of programs across the United States.  The dashed line represents the average score of monolingual, English speaking students on English Language Arts exams.  The colorful lines represent the average score of students who are identified as English Language Learners on the same exam who are in different language acquisition programs.  The space between the colored lines and the dashed line represents the opportunity gap.

As seen on the graph, on average, we are only able to close the opportunity gap for students who are in programs represented by the pink and purple lines.  These lines represent Two-Way and One-Way Developmental Dual Language programs.  (The purple line represents scores of Emergent Bilinguals in Two-Way Dual Language Programs whereas the pink line represents the scores of students in One-Way, Developmental Dual Language Programs.)  As seen by the graph, we are never able to close the opportunity gap for students who are in the other language acquisition programs such as Transitional Bilingual and Traditional ESL programs.

While this is affirming for Dual Language programs and explains why Dual Language programs are a civil right for language minority students, not all Dual Language programs have this same result. The graph below serves as a warning graph.  This graph shows us the average scores in the lowest performing Dual Language program seen by Thomas and Collier (2004-2012). In it, one can see that this particular Dual Language program does not close the opportunity gap for students who are learning English. Hence, this graph demonstrates that calling a program “Dual Language” is not sufficient.  We must ensure that our Dual Language programs are in fact Dual Language programs and that they are living up to expectations.

Calling a program Dual Language is not sufficient to get the expected results.

Ensuring Successful Dual Language Programs

How do we ensure that our Dual Language programs are in fact closing the opportunity gap for our students? Here are a few tips:

  1. Monitor Data.  Are Emergent Bilingual students on the bilingual trajectory?  Compare your emergent bilingual students’ scores to the scores presented in Thomas and Collier’s (2001-2009) graph.  If, on average, students are not on the trajectory, evaluate your program for fidelity to the research.
  2. Language Allocation Plan. Ensure that you have a defined language allocation plan where Language Arts is taught in both languages and at least 50% of the day is taught in the Language Other Than English (LOTE).  Then, ensure that you are adhering to your plan.  
  3. Separation of Language. Make sure that the adults in the room are following strict separation of language.  While we encourage students to use all their linguistic resources, adults in the classroom must stay in the language of instruction except during intentional bridging time.
  4. Bridge. Be sure to bridge. While we know that skills transfer from one language to another, intentional, cross linguistic analysis helps students make that transfer.  Remember that bridging is not translating the lesson or repeating the lesson in another language. Bridges should be student centered.  They should give students the opportunity to look at vocabulary and language structures.  Finally, there should be an extension activity in which students use the vocabulary in the other language not to repeat the lesson but to take the learning one step further.
  5. Guiding Principles. Conduct an honest analysis of your program using the Guiding Principles of Dual Language.  It can be hard sometimes to keep your biases and emotions out of the analysis, so it may be necessary to bring an outside consultant in to analyze your program.  By conducting an honest analysis, you can find areas where the program can be improved so that our students can get the research-based, equitable program they deserve.  

One comment

  1. […] 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. […]


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