North Carolina’s Convincing Case for Dual-Language Learning

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 20, 2014 2 min read
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Few states have experienced as dramatic a shift in demographics over the last 20 years as North Carolina. Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Hispanic population increased by 111 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

And with that influx of Hispanic families (many of them immigrants from Mexico) came rising numbers of students in North Carolina’s public schools who were not native English speakers. The English-language learner population statewide in the 2011-12 school year was roughly 7 percent of the K-12 enrollment, or just under 100,000 students, according to federal data. And the vast majority of those children were native Spanish speakers.

As educators across the state—both in urban and rural communities—began ramping up English-as-a-second-language services to meet growing demand, a handful of teachers and principals, first in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Guilford counties, began exploring dual-language immersion as the best approach to teaching to their non-native speakers. And over the last decade, dual-language programs have become deeply rooted in some districts and have been spreading across the state.

North Carolina has been fortunate to avoid the highly-charged battles over language instruction for English-learners that got caught up in the politics of immigration in states like California. Still, districts with dual language do struggle to hire and keep faculty (they heavily rely on foreign teachers who come on temporary visas).

I’ve written a story all about the early success of dual-language immersion in North Carolina. And not just successful for English-language learners, but for African-American students, and low-income students. In fact, with three years of test-score analysis done by researchers Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas in hand, it’s clear that dual-language learning in that state—specifially, “two-way” dual-language learning—does not discriminate.

Students in every major demographic group are outscoring their peers who are not in dual-language.

The best part of reporting this story was my visit to the Collinswood Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina’s original dual-language school. A magnet school that enrolls students through an open lottery system, Collinswood is a Title I school where more than half of students quality for free and reduced-price meals.

Watch and listen to this wonderful audio slideshow to get a good flavor of what it’s like to be a student and teacher in a true bilingual, bicultural, biliterate environment.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.