Viewpoints of Scholars and Practitioners: Benefits of Dual-Language Programs and Keys to Successful Implementation
A current obstacle to achieving equitability in the United States school system is the language barrier for those whose first language may not be English. Dual-language programs are currently being implemented to act as a powerful solution to this obstacle. Scholars Kotok and DeMatthews and Steele et al. along with practitioners Palmieri, Mitchell, and Jacobs explore the benefits of dual-language programs and emphasize the importance of well-trained teachers and leaders and community support.
Why Schools Need Dual-Language Programs:
There are typically two versions of these programs: one where instruction in each language is evenly split and another where instruction in kindergarten starts with 90% of the teaching in Spanish, for example, and then increasing English instruction as students progress through school (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). Communities need dual-language programs now more than ever. Jacobs emphasizes how “bilingual education is enrichment for advantaged students but a critical necessity for those who need to master English” (Jacobs, 2019, para. 59). Without these programs, children from Spanish-speaking families can be placed in elementary school transition classes and then too quickly into full-on English classes (Jacobs, 2019). The education they receive is not equivalent to that of their English-speaking peers, which again, raises the question of equity. Creating dual-language learning programs has the potential to close the gap between the quality of education for native and non-native English-speaking students.
Implementing dual-language learning strives to keep a student’s native language and culture while increasing their academic achievement in both languages. (Michell, 2018). One of the most attractive potential benefits of these programs is that they allow purposeful integration of schools (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). As of right now, schools are the most segregated racially and economically since early in the 1960s (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). A school may seem diverse, but the classes within them can be segregated (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). The goal of dual-language programs is to have students all in one classroom where they are taught by the same teacher and have access to the same resources (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). There is also evidence that this style works as there are many brain benefits since English language learners have been shown to achieve at the same level or higher than other students on tests (Kotok and DeMatthews, 2018). School districts realize the benefits of these programs as cities such as New York have doubled the number of these programs from 2013 to 2016 (Steele et. al, 2018).
Importance of Strong Leaders in Dual-Language Programs:
Making sure that teachers have the proper qualifications to teach bilingual education helps to ensure high student achievement. Otherwise, there are cases where the students that need the most help are taught by teachers who do not have as much training — going against the ideas of an equitable education (Jacobs, 2019). Additionally, in “Dual-Language Learning: 6 Key Insights for Schools,” one of the six experts in dual language emphasizes how vital it is that principals and leaders know that this program is more than teaching a language (Michell, 2018). These programs are about teaching both cultures and making sure that academic achievement is the same across both languages (Michell, 2018).
Palmieri sums up the benefits of dual-language programs by stating that “students who graduate… are able to communicate in multiple languages and understand others from multiple perspectives, which will allow them to address injustices, racial inequalities, poverty, and environment concerns at a global level” (Palmieri, 2018, para. 10). Schools take on a new purpose as they take a deeper look into the culture associated with language and move beyond a one-perspective approach to learning. Scholarly and practitioner communities recognize the benefits of dual-language programs as they leave students feeling empowered and aware of the power and value that cultures and languages hold.