There’s a strong and growing demand for schools to provide instruction across grade levels and subjects that leads to students who are bilingual and biliterate. In this third installment on the growth in dual-language learning, one expert advises schools to provide immersion education for as many students as possible.
Education Week has talked with several regional and national dual-language education experts, who offer insights into what it takes to launch dual-language programs and strengthen existing ones. If you haven’t already, read our explainer on dual-language learning and our chat about how to start planning for new dual-language programs before you dive into our conversation with David Rogers, the executive director of Dual Language Education of New Mexico, a nonprofit that promotes the effective design and implementation of dual-language enrichment education across the country. The organization also hosts the annual La Cosecha Dual Language Conference.
Rogers has experience as a dual-language and bilingual educator in New York City and Albuquerque, N.M., where he served as dual-language program coordinator and principal. He also served as a U.S. Peace Corps liaison to Paraguay’s Ministry of Education and Culture.
Education Week edited the questions and responses for clarity and length.
Question: How important is it to ensure broad access to dual-language education?
Answer: The first message is dual-language education really is for all students. Every student can benefit from this. It’s just that they need to get into the program at the start (kindergarten or pre-kindergarten). As a principal and then formally as a program coordinator of a dual-language program at elementary, our policy was no monolingual English speakers after 2nd grade. It’s just too late. It’s unfair to the student. It’s unfair to all the students in the classroom. It’s not that we’re trying to keep anyone from making the program, we just need to do this in such a way that we’re being responsible.
I would say that most schools, at least in New Mexico, have the policy that late arrivals from Mexico or Latin America who are native Spanish speakers, they will figure out a way to incorporate their education in the dual-language program. If you have native Spanish speakers coming into the country and are entering the program at 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade, they’re bringing a linguistic asset with them that really benefits the entire class. We have a hard time maintaining and giving our students authentic opportunities for engagement in Spanish. New arrivals provide a golden opportunity.
Q: How do you ensure that dual-language programs are sustainable?
A: If you’re committed to a K-12 dual-language education program, well then it can’t be just the responsibility of leadership at each school site to design and implement the program. You’ve got to have district-level coordination because this program is going to stretch across campuses. We really are purposeful in trying to start working at the district level because the systems of support need to change—whether they’re human resources systems, teaching and learning support systems, materials adoption or assessment, accountabilit, and the list goes on and on.
When the district systems are in place, that really helps to ensure longevity and sustainability of the programs. For 15, 20 years, you’d have a principal at a school site doing a bang-up job with their staff and their community in implementing the program, but then [the principal retires] or they’d have to leave. The district wasn’t as vested as the local school community. The district is responsible for placing another principal and they would put somebody in there who may have said, ‘Yeah, I believe in dual-language.’ But actually they didn’t understand how to support it correctly.
Then it was just constant conflict because they came into the school thinking they were going to run things a certain way and they were finding that doesn’t work because this is a dual-language school, not a monolingual English school.
Q: Have you seen things trending more towards the dual-language immersion model versus the one-way immersion model?
A: The trend here is that we’ve got to get this right. We’re all in as far as being a part of the conversation and trying to find where there’s common ground and to support K-12 dual language education across this country.
[Dual-language education has] been there for the haves for all this time, even though we’ve known for 50 years that it works for the have-nots. By being in New Mexico, we’ve always been about the historically underserved communities. Not like we took a moral stance on it. It was just the need.
Photo Credit: Kindergarten student Harly Widmi Love Blanc is one of several dozen students enrolled in the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy, a Haitian Creole dual language program at Mattahunt Elementary school in Boston. -Gretchen Ertl for Education Week
Related Reading on Dual-Language Learning
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.