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The Humanities, Arts, and Education

Toward Bilingualism, Biculturalism, and Achievement: Growth in Language Learning Via Two-Way Immersion

A growing number of school districts are turning to two-way-immersion (TWI) language programs as a means of meeting a host of challenges, including closing the racial achievement gap, stemming the tide of school racial re-segregation, and capitalizing on the perceived economic and social benefits of a bilingual citizenry. Data from the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) chart the rise of this educational model across the United States, from just 25 programs in 1989 to almost 425 in 2011.

Source: Center for Applied Linguistics, “Growth of TWI Programs, 1962–Present,” http://www.cal.org/twi/directory/twigrow.htm (data downloaded April 25, 2016).

Two-way immersion emphasizes the development of biculturalism in students, as well as the bilingualism (the development in students of full linguistic competence in English and a “partner” language) typical of other dual-language programs. This is done, in part, by ensuring that the student body is composed of roughly even shares of English-dominant students and students whose first language is the partner language. In contrast to traditional bilingual education, which can be thought of as transitional in that the focus is on the development of English proficiency, often at the expense of the first language, two-way immersion and other dual language approaches are considered additive models of bilingual education in which students retain their home language—developing as speakers, readers, and writers of that language—while acquiring proficiency in a second tongue.1

Most TWI programs are found in public schools. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, TWI programs were operating in 26 states in 2015, and were most likely to feature Spanish (by a substantial significant margin) or Chinese as a partner language. The bulk of these programs serve primary school students. It is still the rare system that provides a TWI experience for students in the middle grades and high school, and where older students are served, students tend to receive less instruction in the partner language.2

The first TWI program was implemented in the United States in 1962, but as the CAL data reveal, three decades later there were only 53 programs in operation. But with median annual growth of 13% over the 1990s and 2000s, the number of programs reached 422 in the year 2011 (the most recent for which data are available).

Providing context and perspective on these data are Richard Brecht and Robert Slater, Co-Directors of the American Councils for International Education Research Center, and Jessica Panfil, Principal, Escuela Claremont, a TWI elementary school in Arlington, VA, one of two TWI primary programs in that county. Brecht and Slater share recent findings as to the academic benefits associated with TWI, and stress the dangers associated with hasty roll-out of such programs. Panfil provides a window on the world of TWI implementation, and highlights the demands that the model places on educational systems. We hope their commentaries will spark a rich, constructive discussion about the place of TWI in the nation’s education portfolio, one of the several issues the Academy will be exploring in the future as part of the Commission on Language Learning.

May 2, 2016

A Revolution in Language Learning: The Promise and Challenges of Dual-Language Immersion

posted by
Richard D. BrechtRichard D. Brecht is Co-Director of the American Councils for International Education Research Center, which is conducting an active program of research on dual-language immersion and its relationship to educational achievement and attainment. As Director of the National Council of Organizations of Less Commonly Taught Languages, he helped heritage language communities across the nation found heritage language schools organizations and partnerships with the formal education system. As Director of the National Foreign Language Center he helped found the Alliance for Advancement of Heritage Languages and the 2000 Heritage Language Research Priorities Conference. Brecht now serves on the Board of the University of California, Los Angeles, National Heritage Language Resource Center and was honored to received its prestigious Joshua Fishman Award. Finally, “I have had two daughters in one of the nation’s first French Immersion programs at Four Corners in Silver Spring, MD, where my first grader came home after two months in French immersion and asked what music I was playing. I said “Chopin” and she asked, for the first time thinking only in French: “Hot bread?!”
 and
Robert SlaterRobert Slater is Co-Director of the American Councils Research Center. He is currently co-directing a U.S. government–funded study examining the impact of dual-language immersion programs on K–12 academic performance. From 1992–2010, Dr. Slater served as Director of the National Security Education Program (NSEP). He was the principal architect of the Language Flagship program. Dr. Slater holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from The American University. He is an accomplished political scientist and methodologist, has published in major scholarly journals, and has edited three major books focusing primarily on global transformation, revolution, and political change.
, Co-Directors, American Councils for International Education Research Center

The United States is experiencing a revolution in language learning, as the potential now exists for tens of thousands of children to be able to use two languages effectively by the time they graduate high school. School districts across the country are creating dual-language immersion (DLI) programs at a dizzying pace as political and educational leaders come to view this approach as the long-sought key to successful language education at an early age. Even more enticing is the fact that the language ability provided by DLI has been shown to correlate with higher English literacy skills and improved college and career readiness.    More... 

May 2, 2016

Challenges and Rewards of a Bilingual Program

posted by
Jessica PanfilJessica Panfil is currently the principal of Claremont Immersion, a dual-language public school serving over 720 students in Arlington, Virginia. She began her career as a bilingual immersion teacher in New York City, and over her twenty years in education has taught in or led dual language schools in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Cuzco, Peru; Washington, DC; and Arlington, Virginia. More information about Claremont Immersion here: www.apsva.us/claremont.
, Principal, Escuela Claremont

“Will my child benefit from a dual-language program?” I am often asked, and I reply enthusiastically, “Yes!” In my role as principal of Claremont Immersion, a dual-language Spanish-English immersion public school in Arlington, Virginia, I try my best to explain the lifelong gift parents can give their children by having them learn in two languages. With high parent interest and more research coming out about the benefits of dual-language immersion programs both for English language learners and native English speakers, I am excited to see the growth of dual-language programs and the increased opportunities for students throughout the United States.   More... 

Endnotes

1 Howard, Elizabeth R., Julie Sugarman, Marleny Perdomo, and Carolyn T. Adger, eds. Two-Way Immersion Toolkit (Providence, RI: The Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University, 2005).

2 U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, Dual Language Education Programs: Current State Policies and Practices (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

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Guest
5/3/2016
Founder and Past President, The International Language and Culture Foundation, Inc. 

National efforts and resources to expand immersion world language programs in all public schools are commendable, appropriate and greatly needed. As far as I can tell immersion programs in elementary schools, thus far,  are spotty.

 What is lacking for promoting the study of world language at all levels of public education is the will of citizens to demand re-starting FLES (Foreign Language Elementary School). Somehow our citizens must be informed, more than they are presently, in the importance (and the Why Part) of having their children involved in  studying world language and cultures. This is not being done.

Guest
5/3/2016
Immersion is great, but many programs exclude certain students 

Our son was in a two-way immersion program through elementary school and completed one year of a middle school immersion program.  We are huge fans of immersion but very often these programs place obstacles - and even try to exclude - students with disabilities.  Specifically, our son has dyslexia and other learning disabilities and qualifies for special education services.  His school district did not provide - and refused to provide when we raised the issue - special education support for the Spanish side of the immersion program.  Thus, while classes on the English side of the program had an aide in the classroom to provide support for students with disabilities, and he received special education reading services in English, there was no aide in the classroom for classes conducted in Spanish (except in mathematics -- and the special ed teachers providing math support did not speak Spanish in many cases) and no reading/writing support for Spanish, even though his learning disabilities did not cease to exist when he entered the Spanish-side classroom.

The failure to provide special education services on the Spanish side of immersion programs impacts all students in the program but one of the most pernicious impacts is on native Spanish speakers with learning disabilities.  Such students in particular would benefit from special education support in their native language when learning to read.  One basic fact about immersion is transference - that students learn to transfer skills/vocabulary in one language to the second language.  Special education support for such students would do much to reduce the achievement gap between Latino and white students in many school systems, and between disabled and non-disabled students.

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Guest
5/3/2016
Immersion is great, but many programs exclude certain students 
How true your statement about the lack of support for Spanish academics as well as providing cultural supports (hispanic parents could help with this ), materials and funds . It still seems to be an experience managed by English only speaking administrators and geared to English speaking students leaving the richness of the Hispanic world out! This is the case in Arlington,Virginia.
Guest
5/3/2016
The Parents..... 
The reality "in the field" ( Arlington) is very different from what is portrayed. For some of us that have children in Immersion the experience is one where the Spanish language is treated as a necessary uncomfortable component and the funding and support of that Language and cultures is lacking . Hopefully my comment will not be censored ...
Guest
5/2/2016
 
What do you find are the biggest challenges faced in DLI and its adoption into more US school systems? I would be interested in views from both the perspective of the researchers as well as Principal Panfil.
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Guest
5/2/2016
 
The sine qua non for DLI is parental support, convincing parents that their children will not fall behind in other subjects.   Then finding certified teachers who are fluent in the language.  Then finding the materials in the language.  All of this can be made much easier if sharing networks can be established.
Guest
5/2/2016
Current data? 

One quick note: the CAL data are now 5-6 years out of date. Do we have any sense of what the numbers look like in 2016? - Bill Rivers

 

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Robert B Townsend
1 post
Forum Member
Since Mar 2012
5/2/2016
Current data? 

Regrettably, this represents the most recent data available. We contacted CAL to ask if they intend to update the information in the near term, and they cited a lack of resources.

Robert B. Townsend,
American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Edited by robtownsend on 5/2/2016: adding name
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Guest
5/2/2016
Current data? 
There are efforts underway to collect these data, but the data required will not be available for at least a year. 

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