Dual Language SchoolsOne Size Does Not Fit All: The Importance of Local School and Community Context in DL Program Planning

Author Photo: Dr. Barbara Kennedy

By: Dr. Barbara Kennedy

GlobaLingo Education Consulting, LLC

This piece represents Part One in a series on effective planning practices for initial dual language program implementation.

Photo for: One Size Does Not Fit All: The Importance of Local School and Community Context in DL Program Planning

Excitement is mounting around dual language (DL) education in the United States. It is no wonder, given the growing body of scientific research in support of DL programming and its positive impact on student achievement, bilingualism and biliteracy development, and fostering of socio-cultural competence and global skills. Many are eager to implement DL in their schools, but most do not know exactly where to begin. The temptation may be to adopt a model that is successful in another community, or to contract with a vendor who provides a ready-made DL model, purportedly designed for widespread use.

This brief article, first in a four-part series on thoughtful planning for initial DL program implementation, aims to warn against wholesale adoption of someone else’s DL program model, urging, instead, that educators engage in at least one full year of thoughtful program planning that takes into full account the strengths and needs of the immediate local community to inform your district’s unique DL program model design.

While experts and experienced implementers certainly provide crucial support for districts planning to implement a DL program for the first time, wholesale adoption of someone else’s DL model is ill-advised—no matter how successful that other model may be. Such quick fixes do not work; but why not?

The reality is that each school community features its own unique linguistic, social, and cultural nuances that directly impact how DL education will be received, welcomed, adopted, and implemented. One community may readily embrace multilingualism and be eager to put into effect DL programming that strongly elevates the partner language, such as through provision of a 90-10 DL program. Another community may be more hesitant, making a 50-50 DL program more palatable for adoption. Determining the appropriateness of adopting a DL model with a simultaneous or a more sequential biliteracy approach is highly dependent on community readiness, as well as other local factors, such as extant level of use of the partner language within the local community, availability of appropriately qualified bilingual teaching staff, etc.

Furthermore, district- and school-specific variables require targeted consideration when planning for DL program success. Such variables may include staff and student demographics, extant models for delivering EL program services (e.g. ESL, transitional bilingual, etc.), state and local mandates (e.g. teacher certification, teacher union, and teacher evaluation requirements), and local district initiatives (e.g. curriculum priorities, as well as priority programs such as international baccalaureate, STEM, Montessori, project-based learning, social-emotional learning, CCMR, etc.). Another key variable to be considered is the district’s allocation of instructional minutes for each core content area, as well as for enrichment classes (e.g. art, physical education, music, technology), academic interventions, etc. In order to develop a language allocation plan for your new DL program, instructional minutes must be identified and allocated to each of the two program languages, by content area and by grade level. Such instructional minute allotments vary greatly from district to district, thus making it impossible to adopt wholesale someone else’s ready-made DL model design.

Clearly, there is too much about your community, your district, and your school that makes it unique. Your new DL program’s success depends on your engagement in a thoughtful planning process that takes into account the unique factors and features of your immediate context, combined with the best practices identified in the research. Take the time and make the effort to develop a sound DL program that reflects your community’s unique needs and that builds upon and integrates itself into the parameters of your extant district and school policies and practices. In education, we know that one size does not fit all, and this is no different when it comes to DL program model design and initial implementation.

If you have questions or would like a free consultation on effective DL program planning, contact me at globalingoed@gmail.com. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, which focuses on factors to consider as you develop a DL language allocation plan that will serve as a roadmap for implementation of your district’s new DL program.