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Dual Language Education in the Era of Minority-Majority


This week on the Heinemann blog, we’re sharing a series on Language in the Classroom. The series was inspired by an article published by NPR on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, on the ways we teach English Learners in our country. While the NPR article was specific to English Learners, our hope is to use that as a jumping off point to broader topics of language instruction in the classroom. Each day this week we will feature articles, excerpts and insights directly from Heinemann authors and affiliates that further the conversation surrounding language diversity in the classroom, the challenges it presents, and what we know works.

Adapted from Dual Language Education: Program Design and Implementation  by Sonia Soltero

What sets dual language apart from all other language programs is the opportunity to develop biliteracy and cross-cultural competencies alongside speakers of both English and another language. Because the languages and cultures represented in the school and community are seen as assets, everyone comes to the table with valuable contributions. This type of additive education embraces diversity and creates linguistic and cultural bridges between diverse groups.

There is no denying that the student make-up of today’s classrooms is increasingly diverse. The National Center for Education Statistics (2014) reports that for the first time, the number of Latino, Asian and African-American students in PK-12 schools in the United States has exceeded that of White non-Latino students. This growth is due to increases in Latino and Asian student populations, many coming from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Fourteen states, plus the District of Columbia, already have majority-minority student populations and several are on the verge of becoming majority-minority, including Alaska, North Carolina, and Illinois. Gándara and Callahan (1) note how different the experiences of today’s minority youth are to that of past generations “Children of immigrants today are coming of age in a majority-minority era.”

The highest possible academic, linguistic, and sociocultural outcomes for bilingual learners rest on the strength of the foundations of the dual language program, which must be based on theory and research as well as sound educational practices. This foundation serves as the platform for the three pillars of dual language education.

  1. committed, knowledgeable and well-prepared teachers and school leaders;

  2. engaged and supportive families and community;

  3. culturally and linguistically responsive instruction, curriculum, and assessment.

These pillars, in turn, support the development of academically successful, bilingual, biliterate, and cross-cultural students.

According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the average scores for ELs in reading assessment fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades were significantly lower than the average score for non-ELs. The National Center for Education Statistics (2014) reported that reading score gaps widened by grade, from thirty-nine points in fourth grade, to forty-five points in eighth grade, and to fifty-three points in twelfth grade. For math NAEP assessments average scores in the same grades, the gap between ELs and non-ELs widened from twenty-five points in fourth grade, to forty-one points in eighth grade and to forty-six points in twelfth grade. This achievement gap for ELs is best addressed through high quality additive programs where their language and culture are not only valued but are promoted and developed. Callahan (2) reports that ELs are almost twice as likely to drop out as fluent English speakers. She adds that “the social and academic iso­lation of EL students educated in ESL programs perpetuates the notion of EL students’ language deficiencies. The creation of sepa­rate, but not equal, EL contexts re­sults in their social, academic and physical disengagement.” (2). While ELs continue to underperform academically in the United States, their lack of proficiency in English is not the cause of their academic struggles. Instead, the culprits tend to be the underfunded, overcrowded, unsafe schools they attend that have a remedial-oriented curriculum, inadequate health and counseling services, and less experienced teachers and school leaders (3). Carefully planned and well-implemented dual language programs can provide the type of enriched and culturally responsive education needed to narrow the achievement gap for ELs and other minority groups.  

1. Gandara, Patricia C., and Rebecca M. Callahan. 2014. "Looking Toward the Future: Opportunities in a Shifting Linguistic Landscape." in The Bilingual Advantage: Language, Literacy and the U.S. Labor Market. edited by Rebecca Callahan and Patricia Gandara, 286--97. Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters. 

2.Callahan, Rebecca M. 2013. "The English Learner Dropout Dilemma: Multiple Risks and Multiple Resources." California Dropout Research Project Report #19 www.cdrp.ucsb.edu/pubs_reports.htm 

3. Soltero, Sonia W., and Jose Soltero. 2010. "Latinos and Education in the Chicago Metropolitan Area." in Latinos in Chicago: Reflections of an American Landscape, edited by John Koval, 67--124. Notre Dame, IN: Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame Press.

soniasolteroDr. Sonia W. Soltero has over 30 years of experience in the field of bilingual and English Learner education as a dual language teacher and coordinator, professional developer, researcher, and university professor. She is an Associate Professor and the Chair of the Department of Leadership, Language and Curriculum at DePaul University.

Topics: Dual Language Education, Education, Education Policy, English Learners, ESL, Language in the Classroom, Literacy, Sonia Soltero

Date Published: 10/27/16

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