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March 2019

Ask A REL Question:

What does research say about state- and district-wide policies and language policy planning to support sustainable, effective, and equitable dual language programs?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding state and district policies to support dual language programs. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Cervantes-Soon, C.G., Dorner, L., Palmer, D., Heiman, D., Schwerdtferger, R., & Choi, J. (2017). Combating inequalities in two-way language immersion programs: Toward critical consciousness in bilingual education spaces. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 403-427.
    From the abstract: “This chapter reviews critical areas of research on issues of equity/equality in the highly proclaimed and exponentially growing model of bilingual education: two-way immersion (TWI). There is increasing evidence that TWI programs are not living up to their ideal to provide equal access to educational opportunity for transnational emergent bilingual students. Through a synthesis of research from related fields, we will offer guidelines for program design that attend to equality and a framework for future research to push the field of bilingual education toward creating more equitable and integrated multilingual learning spaces. Specifically, this review leads to a proposal for adding a fourth goal for TWI programs: to develop “critical consciousness” through using critical pedagogies and humanizing research.”
  2. 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.
    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.”
  3. DeMatthews, D., Izquierdo, E., & Knight, D.S. (2017). Righting past wrongs: A superintendent's social justice leadership for dual language education along the U.S.- Mexico border. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25(4).
    From the abstract: “The role of superintendents in adopting and developing dual language education and other equity-oriented reforms that support the unique needs of Latina/o emergent bilinguals is a relatively unexplored area in educational leadership and policy research. Drawing upon theories of social justice leadership, this article examines how one superintendent in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) engaged in leadership to address injustices against Mexican and Mexican-American emergent bilinguals through the implementation of district-wide dual language education. EPISD provided a strategic site for this study because the previous superintendent and administration were part of a large-scale cheating scandal that "disappeared" hundreds of Mexican and Mexican- American students. This study highlights the important role of the superintendent in supporting equity-oriented school reforms such as dual language education, identifies specific actions and values pertinent to social justice leadership at the district level, and describes the ways leaders can take advantage of political opportunities, frame educational injustices in ways that mobilize key stakeholders, and utilize networks and grassroots movements for social justice means. The article concludes with implications for future research.”
  4. Espinosa, L.M. (2015). Challenges and benefits of early bilingualism in the United States' context. Global Education Review, 2(1), 40–53.
    From the abstract: “The population of young dual language learners (DLL) in the United States has tripled in the last several decades and now accounts for 25% of all children in the United States (Migration Policy Institute, June 2014). Many of these children are exposed to multiple languages in the home and the early childhood setting (ECE) setting, and the vast majority are U.S. citizens. Despite the robust research documenting the extensive capacity of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to learn multiple languages and the cognitive, social, and linguistic benefits of early bilingualism, most young DLLs in the United States do not receive enriched ECE that supports their emergent bilingualism. This article reviews the latest research, describes the developmental characteristics of young dual language learners, the similarities and differences between DLLs and young monolingual children, the current ECE policies and practices toward DLLs in the United States, and concludes with policy recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels.”
  5. Pratt, K.L. (2018). Hopeful possibilities in dual language bilingual education in the Pacific Northwest. The WERA Educational Journal, 11(1), 33-39.
    From the abstract: “This article summarizes a four-year ethnographic study that calls us to ponder dual language bilingual educational practices and norms. The study looked at the intersection of federal and state language education policies and classroom teaching and learning events through an in-depth analysis of the language practices in dual language bilingual contexts. Participants engaged in translanguaging practices for bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural determinations as language was authorized differently at different times for different purposes. The use of participants’ full linguistic repertoires during instruction served as an effective shift to challenge language separation policies, which historically have viewed bilingual students as two monolinguals in one. The study offers examples of the realities, tensions, and hopeful promise of translanguaging within dual language classroom contexts for integrating partner languages in more natural and affirming ways. The study builds on the current understanding of the nature of translanguaging in bilingual spaces, and it augments current discussions about translanguaging by providing contextual, tangible, and nuanced examples of translanguaging in practice within a dual language classroom. The study offers rich insight into the empowering processes of becoming bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural through meaningful and authentic language experiences.”
  6. Umansky, I.M. & Reardon, S.F. (2014). Reclassification patterns among Latino English learner students in bilingual, dual immersion, and English immersion classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 51(5), 879–912.
    From the abstract: “Schools are under increasing pressure to reclassify their English learner (EL) students to "fluent English proficient" status as quickly as possible. This article examines timing to reclassification among Latino ELs in four distinct linguistic instructional environments: English immersion, transitional bilingual, maintenance bilingual, and dual immersion. Using hazard analysis and 12 years of data from a large school district, the study investigates whether reclassification timing, patterns, or barriers differ by linguistic program. We find that Latino EL students enrolled in two-language programs are reclassified at a slower pace in elementary school but have higher overall reclassification, English proficiency, and academic threshold passage by the end of high school. We discuss the implications of these findings for accountability policies and educational opportunities in EL programs.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Center for Applied Linguistics:
    From the website: “The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is a non-profit organization founded in 1959. Headquartered in Washington DC, CAL has earned an international reputation for its contributions to the fields of bilingual and dual language education, English as a second language, world languages education, language policy, assessment, immigrant and refugee integration, literacy, dialect studies, and the education of linguistically and culturally diverse adults and children. CAL's mission is to promote language learning and cultural understanding by serving as a trusted source for research, resources, and policy analysis. Through its work, CAL seeks solutions to issues involving language and culture as they relate to access and equity in education and society around the globe.”


Search Strings. Dual language policy OR dual language education OR dual language immersion OR dual language bilingual education OR DLI policy OR DLE policy OR DLBE policy OR district dual language policy OR state dual language OR effective dual language OR sustainable dual language OR language policy planning OR district language policy planning OR state language policy planning OR LPP OR district LPP OR state LPP

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google Scholar)
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)
  • Institute of Education Sciences Resources

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to correlational designs, descriptive analyses, mixed methods and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. The 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.