Sustainability Strategies for Secondary Dual Language Programs: Addressing Small Cohorts

One of the greatest threats to a secondary dual language (DL) program is its sustainability. As secondary education programs differ in structure and implementation from elementary programs, the various aspects of the program that can threaten its sustainability include small cohorts, finding secondary DL teachers, identifying and/or creating DL courses that are taught in the partner language, and securing partner language curriculum for each DL course. In this, the first of four installments on sustainability strategies for secondary DL programs, we will examine the impact of small cohorts on a secondary DL program and potential ways to be proactive to minimize their impact.

The Impact of Small Cohorts on the Sustainability of Secondary DL Programs

Often there are small cohorts of students (e.g., 15 or less) who continue on into the DL program at the secondary level. This can result from only having one DL class at each primary grade level in the elementary program, or families choosing to have their student attend a secondary school closer to their home instead of the secondary school where the DL program is located, especially if busing is not provided by the district. It can also be the result of students wanting to participate in other educational programs offered at the secondary level. Regardless of their origin, small cohorts in the secondary DL program have a fiscal as well as a relational impact on the campus.

Fiscal Impact of Small Cohorts

To continue as a DL program at secondary, there has to be at least two courses offered in the partner language: a partner language arts course and another content area course (Lindholm-Leary, 2000). Fiscally, having at least two courses each day with less than a full class (which is typically 30+) of students means that the DL courses would not generate a full-time equivalent (FTE) for the teacher assigned to teach each course. This, in turn, which could potentially affect the funding the district has allocated for teachers’ salaries at the site. Typically, teachers’ salaries are set based on the per-student funding calculated with the expectation that they will be teaching full classes. If any one of their classes is less than full, then the difference in the amount of funding to cover the teachers’ salaries at the school site would have to be made up by additional funds from the district.

Relational Impact of Small Cohorts

Relationally, the impact of a DL teacher having a small class for two or three periods a day means that other teachers at that grade level or in that content area have larger numbers of students in their classes during those class periods. This can cause relationship issues between colleagues, who may infer that the DL teacher with the smaller class size “has it easy” and that larger numbers of students in their classes make their work more difficult.

Proactively Addressing Small Cohorts in a Secondary DL Program

There are several options to proactively address small cohorts in your secondary DL program. The first is to encourage the district to increase the number of DL classes at each grade level in the elementary programs so that larger number of students will move on to the program at the secondary level. Another is to consider allowing students who were previously not able to participate in a DL program but who have sufficient levels of literacy in the partner language to enroll in the DL courses taught in the partner language. The final option is to consider integrating the DL courses taught in the partner language into college and career pathways so that the DL program will not be in competition with these popular secondary programs. Each of these options will be explored in greater depth, below.

Increase the Number of DL Classes at Each Primary Grade Level in the Elementary DL Program

Having more than one DL class at each primary grade level (Pre-K/TK[1]/Kindergarten through 2nd grade) is a critical structural support for the sustainability of the DL program at elementary as well as secondary level.  Most typically, primary grade classes have different negotiated class sizes than upper grade classes. In addition, in many elementary DL programs, new students cannot join the program after the first few weeks of first grade. Therefore, the attrition rate may be greater in the DL program than it is overall on campus due to this restriction. Here’s what this would look like if there was a 10% attrition rate each year (which may be attributed to students moving to another school or out of the district, etc.).

Table 1. Projected Cohort Size for a Single-Class per Grade Level DL Elementary Program with a Projected 10% Attrition Rate

Grade level: Kindergarten First grade Second Grade Third Grade Fourth Grade Fifth Grade
Negotiated class size: 25 25 25 35 35 35
# of classes: 1 1 1 1 1 1
# of students: 25 22 20 18 16 14

 

As is shown in Table 1, the difference in the expected and the actual number of students at the upper grades (3-5) is significant for the elementary program, as the other teachers at each of these grade levels would likely find a greater number of students in their classrooms than if there was no DL program at the school. Having only one DL class at each primary grade level also results in a smaller cohort to send on to secondary, as there is may be an additional 10% attrition rate in the DL program between the end of elementary and the beginning of the secondary, which, in the case of the cohort shown in the Table 1, would result in only 13 students continuing in the DL program in secondary. Consider instead the cohort trajectory if there were two DL classes at each grade level in the elementary DL program, shown in Table 2, below.

Table 2. Projected Cohort Size for a Two Classes per Grade Level DL Elementary Program with a Projected 10% Attrition Rate

Grade level: Kindergarten First grade Second Grade Third Grade Fourth Grade Fifth Grade
Negotiated class size: 25 25 25 35 35 35
# of classes: 2 2 2 1 1 1
# of students: 50 45 40 36 32 29

 

As demonstrated in Table 2, above, there are benefits for both the elementary and the secondary DL programs when there are two DL classes at each grade level. Even with an additional 10% attrition rate between elementary and secondary, there would be 26 students moving on to the secondary DL program.

In some schools, the total number of students enrolled results in a limited number of classes at each grade level. Increasing the number of DL classes may not be possible in these schools unless the schools switch from a strand model (with at least one classroom at each grade level offering the Mainstream English program) to a whole-school DL program model. If this switch is not possible, then another possibility to consider is to either 1) start a DL program at another elementary school that feeds into the same middle/junior high school as the original program, or 2) if there are already other elementary DL programs, strategically establishing their feeder patterns to the same middle/junior high school. If the elementary DL programs can only support one DL class per grade level, there will need to be at least two elementary DL programs to feed into the same middle/junior high school to support the sustainability of the program there (although it will not alleviate the gap between the negotiated class size and the number of continuing DL students at the upper elementary grades; see Table 1). Having a different feeder pattern for the DL students into the secondary level than for the non-DL students is common in districts with elementary DL programs that can only accommodate one DL class in the primary grade levels. It is also popular with programs with more than one DL class at the primary grade level, as it increases the program’s sustainability to send larger cohorts on to the schools hosting the secondary DL programs.

Allowing Non-DL Students to Enroll in DL Courses Taught in the Partner Language

There may be secondary students that have not had the opportunity to attend a school with a DL program or attended one that did but there were not enough seats available for the student to enroll. They may also have entered the school after the cut-off point for adding new students to the DL program. When considering whether to allow these students to enroll in the DL courses taught in the partner language at the secondary level, attention must be paid to their opportunity to be successful in the courses. There is one factor that is critical to the students’ success—their level of literacy (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) in the partner language. Sustainability for a DL program is dependent on not only the number of students taking courses being taught in the partner language but also the number of students who possess the requisite skills to be successful in those courses.

These students who would be new to DL may include heritage language students, who have a level of proficiency in the partner language from exposure to the language in their home or the local community. They could also be English Learners, especially those who are identified as newcomers, having been in US schools for less than one year, which also addresses the issue of equity of access to the DL program for English Learners, the students for whom DL programs were originally created. The students could also be RFEP, English Learners who were reclassified as Fluent English Proficient, or IFEP students, those who are native speakers of the partner language but upon initial entry into school were already identified as Fluent English Proficient. Finally, the students might be Long-Term English Learners (LTELs), English Learners who have been enrolled in US schools for seven or more years and have not yet been reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (RFEP). All of these students are considered ineligible for inclusion in the secondary DL program in many districts because they were not previously enrolled in a DL program. In other districts, however, they are openly recruited, and many are determined to have sufficient literacy skills in the partner language to be successful in the DL courses taught in the partner language, which increases the sustainability of the secondary DL program.

Assessing the partner language literacy skills of students new to DL is routine in many secondary programs. To assess students’ literacy skills, most secondary schools with a world language program use the placement test for their courses in the partner language. If the middle/junior high school that will host the DL program does not currently have a world language program, then one would need to be established. Collaboration with the high school world languages program will be critical in accessing the partner language placement test. Some programs choose to use a locally created assessment, often focusing on reading and writing, which may also include a short oral interview. Other partner language assessments are available through curriculum and assessment publishing companies. Connecting with secondary DL colleagues through DL networks and visiting exhibitor booths at DL conferences may provide additional assessment options to measure students’ level of literacy skills in the partner language to determine their eligibility to enroll in the DL courses.

Integrate DL courses taught in the partner language into college and career pathways

Given that there are many programs that will vie for the attention of secondary DL students, consider integrating as many DL courses taught in the partner language as possible into those programs. This strategic move will allow DL students to participate in multiple programs and still attain high levels of biliteracy toward earning the Seal of Biliteracy (if adopted by your state) and other district recognitions.

One approach is to integrate DL courses taught in the partner language into STEM and STEAM programs. Science and math courses are the most common DL courses taught in the partner language that are integrated into these programs. This integration fosters collaboration between the teachers in these programs and the DL teachers as well as providing opportunities for DL students as they pursue their interest in STEM or STEAM.

Another approach is to integrate DL courses taught in the partner language into Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways or other college and career pathways. For instance, for a patient care pathway in the Health Science and Medical Technology sector, a course on the partner language culture and medical terminology that would be used in those types of careers might draw many students to the pathway as well as the partner language course(s). Another example would be a course taught in the partner language on court interpretation and translation in a legal practices pathway in the Public Services sector.

Conclusion

Although small cohorts can be a threat to the sustainability of a secondary DL program, being proactive and considering the various options shared in this article: increasing the number of DL classrooms in the primary grades, allowing non-DL students to enroll in secondary courses taught in the partner language, and integrating DL courses into other secondary education programs, will contribute greatly to the sustainability of your secondary DL program.

 

References

Lindholm-Leary, Kathryn. “Biliteracy for a Global Society: An Idea Book on Dual Language Education.” (2000). Available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED447714.pdf

 

Kris Nicholls, Ph.D.

CEO, Nicholls Educational Consulting

nichollseducationalconsulting@gmail.com

nichollseducationalconsulting.com

 

[1] Transitional Kindergarten (TK)

Kris Nicholls
Author: Kris Nicholls

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