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REL Central Ask A REL Response

English Learners

April 2021


What systems and practices support implementation of dual language programs?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Chesnut, C. E., & Dimitrieska, V. (2018). Implementing Indiana’s new dual language immersion programs: Educator perspectives. Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This brief provides guidance to policymakers and practitioners on the challenges and opportunities of the ‘dual language immersion’ (DLI) model and presents research conducted with teachers and administrators both before and during their first years of implementing new DLI programs in several Indiana school districts. The brief also offers recommendations for growing and sustaining such programs by examining the perspectives of the stakeholders in the early stages of implementation. The following research questions guide this inquiry: (1) How do educators involved with new DLI programs perceive this instructional model and its potential benefits and/or challenges?; (2) As educators plan and implement new DLI programs, how do they perceive their own preparedness for this work?; and (3) What challenges and/or opportunities do educators perceive as they implement DLI programs? How do these differ among educators based on contextual factors (e.g., program model, experience, school/community demographics)? To allow for an in-depth examination of the perspectives of these educators, researchers used a qualitative case study design, collecting data through stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and publicly available documents. Based on analysis of data in response to the research questions, findings are highlighted in four areas: (1) benefits of immersion programs; (2) recruitment and staffing challenges; (3) importance and challenge of acquiring DLI curricular resources; and (4) program sustainability, expansion, and accountability.”

Cortina, R., Makar, C., & Mount-Cors, M. F. (2015). Dual language as a social movement: Putting languages on a level playing field. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 17(1), 5–16. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“As a social movement, dual language challenges and co-exists alongside traditional English-only classrooms in the US. Using Manuel Pastor’s social movements framework, we demonstrate how dual language provides teaching methods and languages of instruction that allow varying student populations to excel in learning the official curriculum. In this way, dual language addresses inequities in access to education and quality of instruction as addressed in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and international agreements about the rights of children to learn in a language they understand. The U.S. dual language movement seeks to level the playing field for students and is sought by a range of schools, school systems, and states to meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners from a range of language and socioeconomic groups. In this paper, we address the quest of school leaders and parents to achieve successful academic results for Latino students through dual language programs. Drawing from a qualitative study of seven dual language programs in schools in two school districts, this article aims to explain how educators adapt dual language models to the needs of their changing communities. The schools’ leadership led a process of academic innovations as they reshaped and improved the design of programs to serve their students. All the schools confirmed that they encountered difficulty in maintaining a 50-50 dual language model, but they also reported having to engage in continuous renewal and improvement in order to serve the needs of their communities. The article highlights the crucial role of the community in support of dual language learning and describes the empowerment networks of community actors that take part in education decision-making—which include parents, community education councils, and the schools’ leadership. Through this research, we find Dual language programs, when combined with the rest of the schools’ programs or when implemented across the school, to be one of the most innovative and effective forms of education programming.”

Heinrichs, C. R. (2016). Exploring the influence of 21st century skills in a dual language program: A case study. International Journal of Teacher Leadership, 7(1), 37–57. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Preparing students as 21st century learners is a key reform in education. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills developed a framework that identifies outcomes needed for successful implementation of rigorous standards. The Dual Language (DL) program was identified as a structure for reform with systems and practices which can be used to prepare students for the 21st century. The purpose of this study was to explore the systems and practices within a DL program that support development of 21st century skills in a southern California school district at an elementary school, middle school, and high school. Data were collected through interviews, focus groups, and document review and were coded to reveal six themes. Themes pertaining to Research Question One were: systems that advanced 21st century skills, and structures for collaboration. Leadership, development of community, and shared beliefs were themes that were germane to Research Question Two.”

Li, J., Steele, J., Slater, R., Bacon, M., & Miller, T. (2016). Teaching practices and language use in two-way dual language immersion programs in a large public school district. International Multilingual Research Journal, 10(1), 31–43. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Many educators and policymakers look to two-way dual language immersion as one of the most promising options to close achievement gaps for English learners. However, the programs’ effectiveness depends on the quality of their implementation. This article reports on a large-scale study of the implementation of dual language immersion across a large, urban school district. Using classroom observations, we examined teaching practices and language use by teachers and students in dual language immersion classrooms across an entire school district. We found strong implementation of teaching practices consistent with sheltered instruction, and strong adherence by teachers to partner language use as prescribed by the district’s guidelines. This article provides a descriptive view of what is happening in two-way dual language immersion classrooms in a large, urban U.S. school district. While other studies may examine classroom practices, few have done so on this scale.”

Meineke, H., & DeVasto, D. (2020). The subject of subjectivity: Preparing teachers with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for empowering emergent bilingual students. Journal of Teacher Education and Educators, 9(1), 61–82. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“It is estimated by the year 2030, over 40% of the K–12 population in U.S. schools will be children whose first language is not English (Shin & Ortman, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2007;). This shift has negative academic consequences for emergent bilingual students (EBS). Schools (K–12) unable to meet the needs of EBS contribute to these consequences and the social and cultural cycle of oppression for this marginalized group. Thus, integrating knowledge, skills, and dispositions (KSDs) beneficial for meeting the needs of EBS becomes imperative for pre-service program models, though often blocked by subjective thinking. This article presents the learning opportunities offered by three distinct pre-service program coursework models. Differences coursework models shaped pre-service teachers’ ability to acquire KSDs required for working with EBS, which in turn, informed what they enacted in classrooms. This finding provides evidence and rationale for pre-service programs to develop and integrate KSDs beneficial to EBS.”

Steele, J. L., Slater, R., Li, J., Zamarro, G., Miller, T., Li, J., Burkhauser, S. & Bacon, M. (2017). Effects of dual-language immersion programs on student achievement: Evidence from lottery data. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 282S–306S. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Using data from seven cohorts of language immersion lottery applicants in a large, urban school district, we estimate the causal effects of immersion programs on students’ test scores in reading, mathematics, and science, and on English learners’ (EL) reclassification. We estimate positive intent-to-treat (ITT) effects on reading performance in fifth and eighth grades, ranging from 13 to 22 percent of a standard deviation, reflecting 7 to 9 months of learning. We find little benefit in terms of mathematics and science performance, but also no detriment. By sixth and seventh grade, lottery winners’ probabilities of remaining classified as EL are three to four percentage points lower than those of their counterparts. This effect is stronger for ELs whose native language matches the partner language.”

U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition. (2015). Dual language education programs: Current state policies and practices. Retrieved from

From the executive summary:

“This report presents an analysis of relevant research and extant data related to dual language education policies and practices. Dual language education programs are a type of bilingual education program in which students are taught literacy and academic content in English and a partner language. Dual language programs aim to help students develop high levels of language proficiency and literacy in both program languages, attain high levels of academic achievement, and develop an appreciation and understanding of multiple cultures. Recent research suggests that the approach provides more opportunities for English learners (ELs) to reach higher levels of academic achievement than other types of programs.”

Werblow, J., Duesbery, L., & Koulidobrova, H. (2020). The case for dual language programs as the future of public education. Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 3(3). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The U.S. spends far more on education than any other country in the world (OECD, 2011); yet, continues to produce vastly inequitable outcomes, especially for English Learners (ELs). In this article we explore the reasons for, and consequences of, the U.S. system’s continued failure to support ELs. The term, in itself, is part of the problem as it frames students’ native language as a deficit upon which many linguistic models have been built. After articulating and problematizing this context, we aim to make an evidence-based argument for a concrete policy solution: the national implementation of two-way dual language programs as the model, not the exception, for the future of PK–8 education in the United States.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for Applied Linguistics:

From the website:

“The Center for Applied Linguistics is a nonprofit organization promoting access, equity and mutual understanding for linguistically and culturally diverse people around the world.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “bilingual education” + implementation
  • “bilingual education program” + implementation
  • “bilingual students” + implementation
  • “dual language program” + implementation
  • “English language learners” + implementation
  • “two-way immersion program” + implementation

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching for and reviewing references, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2011 and 2021.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.