Dual Language SchoolsChance for Success

Author Photo: Margarita Calderón

By: Margarita Calderón

Professor Emerita/Senior Research Scientist

Photo for: Chance for Success

If you read Education Week January 22, 2020, you saw the 13 indicators for setting the stage for a lifetime of achievement. Each state is ranked according to indicators such as pre-K and kindergarten enrollment, academic performance, high school graduation, parental education, income, and English-language fluency in the home. They use the term “linguistic integration” to mean parental fluency in English. Some of us might think that the term “linguistic integration” meant integrating languages or dual language into the school’s goals. But their indicator seems so far removed from the DL framework! Nevertheless, there are opportunities here.

The editors rank the states showing Massachusetts once again on top and New Mexico with a D+ on the bottom. It is sad to see the land of DL enchantment get a D+. The District of Columbia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Wyoming showed most improvement since 2008. Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Montana showed the largest declines in that order. Even with a decline of -2.8, Massachusetts still gets an A-.

What can we glean from this? One of their editorial columns is entitled “English-Fluency in the Home: Why Does it Matter?” They begin by citing research that “shows that children whose parents are involved in supporting their learning do better in school, but that’s often a barrier for children whose parents aren’t fluent speakers of English. Latino families are less likely to volunteer or serve on school committees or attend school or class events—all important opportunities to communicate about students’ academic progress.”

Whereas we all believe that speaking our native language at home to our children is pivotal (my son the physician is now so grateful we maintained his academic Spanish), we must also acknowledge that parental communication and engagement with the school is critically important these days. Moreover, since dual language programs are emerging throughout the country, now is the time to give more attention to parents in whatever language they prefer.

There are already programs that train parents in their home language on precisely how to stay engaged with their children’s schools throughout their education. If your school or district does not have one, it behooves you to call for one.

Schools can no longer complain about parents not wanting to be involved in their child’s education! On the contrary, the onus is on the school to prepare parents for that involvement. Schools are being judged now. So are their states.

Schools can no longer complain about parents not wanting to be involved in their child’s education! On the contrary, the onus is on the school to prepare parents for that involvement. Schools are being judged now. So are their states. They are being graded. If the parents’ English is limited, ESL classes should be offered at the school site as well as frequent sessions in L1 to inform parents of critical junctures and ways to stay connected. Parents should not miss out on something as important as SAT time and preparation, guidelines for receiving the Seal of Biliteracy, or how to prepare for high school graduation starting in middle school. I recently heard from a state (which will remain anonymous) administrator that no former ELs have received the Seal of Biliteracy because they don’t make the grades. They are graduating with ‘Cs’ instead of As and Bs in their core content areas.

It is a given that preK-1st grades are critical. We can predict at the end of first grade who will have reading difficulties or who will become a long-term EL (Calderón & Minaya-Rowe, 2011; Calderón & Montenegro, in press). This is the time when schools can ensure language and literacy development by sending home packages in L1 and ESL-scaffolded materials to parents, so they have the tools that align to their children’s on-going classroom instruction.

Massachusetts and New Mexico report that they are adding millions to improve on these indicators. We need to be watchful of how those moneys will be allocated. If they are so preoccupied with the students and parents who affect their grades and scores, it is time for them to invest time, energy, quality professional development, and the development of the right materials, tools, and processes for everyone’s “chance for success.”

Calderón M.E. & Minaya-Rowe, L. (2011). Preventing Long-Term English Language Learners: Transforming schools to meet core standards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Calderón, M.E. & Montenegro, H. (in press). “Empowering Long-Term-ELs with Social Emotional Learning, Language, and Literacy.” El Monte, CA: Velázquez Press.