Ensuring Language-Minority Students Access to Our Dual Language Programs
We all know that Dual Language Education (DLE) programs are the only language-acquisitions programs that are research-proven to close the opportunity gap for our Emergent Bilinguals (Thomas & Collier, 2017). In fact, DLE’s academic superiority for language-minority students is one of the most common and powerful reasons for opening new programs. However, in spite of years worth of longitudinal data demonstrating this phenomenon, many of our DLE programs are designed to exclude language-minority students.
In general, there are two types of Dual Language Education programs: Two-Way Dual Language Education programs and One-Way Dual Language Education programs. These descriptions are based on the population of students attending these programs. In Two-Way DLE programs, the students are generally grouped into two categories: students who speak the Language Other Than English (LOTE) at home and students who speak English at home. An equal number of students from both groups are invited into these programs. (With the changing demographics in the United States, a third group has been created in most Two-Way DLE programs to recognize students whose home language is the LOTE but have already, at some level, started gaining bilingual skills.) Because the interest in the program is often so high, these invitations are usually extended through a lottery system. On the other hand, One-Way DLE programs have only one group of students as identified by language: either all students speak the LOTE at home and are identified according to national criteria as Emergent Bilinguals, or all students come from monolingual, English-speaking homes. Programs in which all the students begin as Emergent Bilinguals are also known as One-Way, Developmental Dual Language Education programs.
One-Way, Developmental DLE programs are more equitable than Two-Way DLE programs when there are such limited seats that not all Emergent Bilinguals who can speak the LOTE can enter the DLE program.. Because DLE programs are the only research-based programs to close the opportunity gap for Emergent Bilinguals and since the law states that we must provide language-minority students with research-based programs (Castañeda v Pickard, 1978), strong DLE programs are in fact a Civil Rights issue for language-minority students. When lotteries exclude Emergent Bilinguals in favor of English proficient students who do not suffer from an opportunity gap, we are effectively transferring seats that are must haves for language-minority students to students for whom the same seats are nice to have. In other words, we are perpetuating the opportunity gap for our Emergent Bilingual students who do not get into the program and denying them their right to an equitable education in favor of already privileged students.
Of course, there are many reasons why schools choose to have Two-Way DLE programs even when this means that such programs are excluding language-minority students, and consequently acting in direct opposition to the social justice mission of Dual Language Education. First, it is easier to get politically powerful, English-speaking families on board when programs benefit their students as well. Often, without their support, districts fear that they won’t have their school board’s support to begin DLE programs. Nevertheless, equitable education for minority students should not depend upon the support of politically powerful players. Instead, we need to educate our districts and the stakeholder within them such as families, board members, and educators as to why we are first providing DLE programs for language-minority students before we expand to include all families interested in the opportunity. Furthermore, many practitioners argue that according to Thomas and Collier’s (2017) research, graduating students who begin their Dual Language career as Emergent Bilinguals score slightly better on norm-referenced, English Language Arts exams if they are in Two-Way DLE programs than if they are in One-Way DLE programs. However, the same research demonstrates that One-Way DLE programs do in fact still close the opportunity gap for Emergent Bilingual students who start the program in Kindergarten. Finally, many leaders in education claim that it is easier to avoid the segregation of language-minority students in Two-Way DLE programs than in One-Way DLE programs since One-Way DLE programs require all language-minority students to be in academic classes together. However, by making efforts to integrate students during their special area classes such as PE and art, we can avoid a pre-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) situation.
Hence, if your district is considering starting a new DLE program, be careful of excluding the very students who need the program the most. Instead, consider if, based on your student population, it would behoove you more to start a One-Way Developmental DLE program so that you can service all your Emergent Bilinguals who speak the LOTE. And if you already have a Two-Way DLE program, see if you can expand the program to include all your Emergent Bilingual students or if you can add a One-Way DLE branch to your existing structure. DLE programs benefit all students, but are imperative for our language-minority students, and can be key to their success. Let us not forget the students who most need our services.