Promising Trends for Dual Language Education: New Mexico Charter School Study
Abt Associates conducted an illuminating study, partnering with The Dual Language Education of New Mexico, on trends currently happening for Dual Language programs. Below, you can find a Q & A conversation we had with Michael Rodriguez of Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DleNM), and Jackie Mendez, Associate for Social and Economic Policy, of Abt Associates, an engine for social impact, fueled by caring, curiosity and cutting-edge research that moves people from vulnerability to security.
DLS: As New Mexico is one of the premier locations for dual language education with organizations like DLeNM and conferences that attract the best and the brightest in the field like La Cosecha, why do you think it has taken this long for the first study on dual language to be conducted?
Jackie Mendez: This is a great question. National research studies have often not included NM because of the small population and the expense. We required a funder who supported the need for a study of whole school dual language programs in New Mexico. Fortunately, Arnold Ventures shared our enthusiasm. We had 100% participation from eligible schools and support from the NM Public Education Department. This was possible because the focus on dual language schools is consistent with the state’s priority for bilingual multicultural education. Our Abt Associates project director, Rachel McCormick, is an NM resident, and her presence in the state enabled us to forge some great local partnerships.
The study was a collaboration of practitioners and researchers with common goals of conducting a high-quality study and using the complementary expertise of each team member. This partnership enabled us to produce thoughtful interpretations of results that accounted for the local context and informed policy recommendations. It was a model for future research efforts.
Can you explain to us what DLeNM’s “Program Readiness/Effectiveness Site Evaluation Visit” protocol entails?
Michael Rodriguez: DLeNM’s Site Evaluation Visits are designed to gauge the readiness of new dual language programs in terms of the systems and supports already in place while identifying key considerations for effective program implementation. For existing, veteran programs, our visits provide insight into the effectiveness of systems while assessing how the program’s implementation practices align with its mission and the students they are serving. To ensure that we have a true understanding of the various stakeholder perspectives, we conduct focus group interviews with district and site dual language leadership, bilingual/dual language teachers currently serving English learners, and parents who are either interested or have students currently being served through the bilingual program. From these interviews, we extract some of the common themes among the groups as well as highlight specific ideas or concerns that a particular stakeholder group may have.
To understand how the stakeholder perceptions of the program are reflected through the implementation, classroom observations are also conducted. By triangulating the interview data, observation data, and assessment data, program strengths and areas in need of improvement are identified and provided back to dual language leadership with next-step recommendations. Our protocol is directly aligned with the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education, Third Edition, so in addition to our findings, leaders have a tool that will help guide these next steps in a way that is founded in research and best practice.
What were you able to learn from the participating schools and families? Can you share with us some of the findings from the study?
Jackie Mendez: The implementation study enabled us to capture the Dual Language (DL) school stakeholder voice as we conducted virtual focus groups with school leadership, teachers, and parents. We learned about the key characteristics of the focal DL schools in our study. We were pleased to see that many of the characteristics were aligned to the Dual Language Education Theory of Change Logic Model. Some of these characteristics include:
- Clearly defined Curriculum Alignment Plans that demonstrate the vertical and horizontal alignment of what content is being taught in each language, for how long, at each grade level.
- Structures for capacity building, language equity, and the allocation of resources.
- Linguistically and culturally diverse staff.
- Planning and implementation of creative lessons that use cultural, linguistic, and community assets.
- School culture that celebrates cultural traditions and heritage and actively engages families and community.
- Systems that ensure the consistency, alignment, fidelity, and intentional use of data in various languages.
We also learned about some of the challenges that DL schools encountered. Some of these challenges included:
- The designation of school grading/effectiveness by the Public Education Department is English-centric.
- With no clear neighborhood boundaries, extra effort is required to create a cohesive school community.
- We need to know more about how balancing language profiles under the lottery / demographics of students served might affect outcomes.
I was struck by one parent’s motivations for enrolling her children in a DL program. She described her appreciation of an experience outside of a white-centric society. She explained that her children have so many opportunities to interact and have unique meaningful experiences with students who have different backgrounds and experiences as well as teachers, many of whom have immigrated to the US themselves.
While we were unable to collect primary data to measure Spanish proficiency from the dual language schools as a part of this study, we were able to collect principal assessments. These data suggest that students who were enrolled in a dual language school from kindergarten through fifth grade showed dramatic growth in their written and oral Spanish proficiency scores. This was true for both the native Spanish speakers and the native English speakers. Our rigorous impact study supported these findings. Average 5th grade English Language Arts scores were higher for English learners who were continuously enrolled in dual language than for English learners enrolled in non-dual language elementary schools. While these findings were not statistically significant, they are sizeable.
Can you tell us a bit about the Dual Language Education Theory of Change Logic Model?
Michael Rodriguez: The Logic Model was created collaboratively by Jackie Mendez, our research partner from Abt Associates, Dr. Liz Howard from the University of Connecticut, who served as a Senior Advisor for the research study, and me, the Director of Operations for DLeNM, with a focus the organization’s program design and leadership offerings. As part of the implementation study, our intent for our Logic Model was to detail a hypothesis for why certain activities and conditions within the participating schools in our study, lead to change. What we quickly realized is that this document could serve as a guiding resource for new dual language programs, and a reflective tool for leaders of existing programs, outlining critical considerations that lead to what existing research has proven to be possible in terms of student outcomes and program sustainability. After two years of reworking the document, including gathering additional input from experts and practitioners around the country, we have developed a final version of the logic model that is now available for download in pdf format on our website at www.dlenm.org.
When digging into the details of the Logic Model, you will see that it consists of interwoven and overlapping components that walk you from determining the initial program commitments, decisions, and the purpose of your program, through the core activities of implementation, and ultimately culminating in the way you measure and demonstrate fulfillment of the goals. Each section details the big-picture actions and responsibilities appropriate to the roles of key stakeholder groups.
At the core of our logic model is a visual representation of the “what”, “why”, and “how” of mission fulfillment. Central to the design are foundational beliefs represented by three gears. The first two gears incorporate the three goals of dual language education and the collaborative efforts by stakeholders to foster an environment that is rich in both language and culture. To truly support the development of sociocultural competence, the third gear signifies the importance of programs operating through a stance that prioritizes equity and social justice, fosters critical consciousness, and is anti-racist.
Once dual language leadership teams identify where their program is situated in the progression and identifies their next steps, we would encourage them to turn to the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education, Third Edition for specific research, best practices, and self-assessment rubrics.
So… what does it take for schools to effectively implement programs and achieve the three goals of dual language?
Michael Rodriguez: What DLeNM has learned from years of working with schools and districts around the country is that effective implementation of high-quality programs is truly achieved through a reflective and inclusive process. For me, four areas that come to mind when thinking of what it takes to effectively implement programs.
First and foremost, programs must value the involvement, engagement, and partnership with their community. Not only does your program rely on the community to trust in your model by enrolling their children, but they must also be empowered as your most vocal allies and own the program just as much as the classroom, school, and district-level leaders. Without adequate planning and support, this can easily lead to your downfall. As dedicated teachers and program leaders at all levels move up or move on, is the community that will ensure that the ideals of the program remain intact, for the benefit of their kids. Giving them a seat at the table provides that critical perspective and voice.
The second area that needs to be considered is knowledge. Together, stakeholders need to have the foundational understandings of dual language program implementation to build the systems that will lead to sustainability. To reach the three goals, you need to have the right commitments, supports, and resources. Committed parents and school teams cannot effectively maintain a program without the support from district-level leaders. Whether they are directly responsible for the dual language program or not, all district-level administrators and support staff need to understand how decisions they make either positively or negatively impact the program. Thinking of dual language needs “after the fact” does not work. Many unnecessary barriers can be avoided when it comes to having resources for the right assessments, curriculum, support services, or even hiring practices.
The third consideration that comes to mind when I think of effective implementation has to do with the planning, systems, and structures of programs. For new programs, it’s important to spend adequate time gathering the information and understanding needs before jumping in. Typically, we recommend that schools incorporate a planning year into their design so that important decisions systems and structures at all levels can be put in place before having “students in seats”. By doing this, there’s time to ensure that everyone is clear on:
- The purpose and motivations of the program.
- How the right materials, training, and resources will be delivered.
- How capacity-building will be fostered. For existing programs, there’s a need to constantly revisit, revise, refocus and recommit to the core purpose and mission of your program. As longitudinal data and community perspectives are gathered, the dual language leadership team must ensure that the current direction continues to be aligned with the current needs.
The fourth area that I think of when looking at how programs are effectively able to achieve the three goals of dual language education has to do with clear, measurable, and valuable outcomes. As we outlined in the logic model, all programs should have short and long-term indicators that measure their success. As we all know, a dual language program’s success cannot be measured solely on one English end-of-year assessment. We must look at other ways of gauging shifts in mindset, stakeholder satisfaction, consistency and alignment, shared commitments, and a holistic view of our learners. While there are many well-implemented dual language programs, no program is perfect. It is the programs that value shared ownership and reflection that prevail.
How do you think dual language programs can maintain this momentum in a post-pandemic world?
Michael Rodriguez: As we enter a new school year this fall, I think it is important that dual language teams reflect on what we have learned this past year. While there were many uncertainties and abrupt shifts that took place, we saw many examples of the creativity, collaboration, and compassion for individual situations that teachers are known for having. Coming out of the pandemic, it will be essential to connect with and truly understand the “new normal” of communities and students. While learning from home, students didn’t have the luxury of the many visuals and resources posted around classrooms to support their academic and linguistic learning. On top of that, there were many examples of students with limited or no Internet access, parents who were learning how to use the technology along with their children, and many loved ones lost which continue to affect staff members and families alike. Yes, programs must hold to their program ideals and goals if they want to realize the long-term outcomes that research has shown to be possible, but they must also be realistic in how they approach their “new normal” with their communities. In the last fifteen months, technology became a major tool for accessing and supporting students. Now that schools are fully opening back up in the fall, teachers are faced with the decision of how to balance the use of new online resources with the ways they previously created authentic opportunities to learn content and language in the classroom. To maintain momentum, dual language teams need to have consensus and consistency in their approach while standing ready to address the unknown level of social and emotional support that everyone will need.
How do you think we can inspire more qualified individuals to become dual language teachers, as recruiting a highly qualified staff is part of the Dual Language Education Theory of Change Logic Model?
Michael Rodriguez: In every state that we work in, we hear the same story; bilingual teachers are hard to find. For the teachers that we are lucky enough to already have in our classrooms, we must acknowledge the additional work that they take on when in a dual language classroom. Whether that is through providing much-needed and desired training, coordinating additional planning and collaboration time, attend conferences, or advocating for bilingual teacher stipends, we have to find creative, meaningful ways of improving retention.
Regarding the recruiting of highly qualified dual language staff, we have seen some innovative ways that school districts are partnering with universities to “grow their own” dual language teachers. Informing, encouraging, and exciting current high school students of the possibility of becoming bilingual teachers can be done by creating chapters of existing high school clubs like Educators Rising. In doing so, sponsors must be knowledgeable about the bilingual education track and have access to bilingual program leaders at the local university. Creating collaborative support systems for these students once they are in college is also quite beneficial.
Some other ways that districts have been able to “grow their own” are by allocating funds to support bilingual educational assistants to pursue their teaching degrees or by informing parents and community supporters about alternative licensure program opportunities.
As a former dual language administrator for fifteen years, I quickly learned the importance of using all of our program’s tools to demonstrate what we were about, and what we believed. When considering their next job, it is not uncommon for bilingual teachers to browse a schools’ social media and web pages, or even view online parent ratings before submitting their resume. The better you can demonstrate the equity among both program languages, your systems, and resources, and how your program fosters capacity building, the more confidence a worthy candidate will have that your school is the right place for them. One thing I have learned is that dual language teachers know the extra work it takes, but are not afraid of it. As a first-grade teacher once told me, “I have never worked so hard in my career, but I have never been so happy doing it”. With such a shortage of bilingual teachers, you can’t forget that they are interviewing you and assessing what you have to offer just as much as you are doing of them!