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What does the research say about the experiences of Dual Language Learners in early childhood? What are the implications of research for policy?

March 2019

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on the requirements within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for early childhood dual-language or English language instruction. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on how states and districts are meeting such ESSA requirements. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Bornfreund, L., Dichter, H., Calderon, M., & Garcia, A. (2017). Unlocking ESSA’s Potential to Support Early Learning. Build Initiative.
    From the introduction: “In December 2015, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, replacing No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States are now preparing to submit their plans for approval. This latest iteration of the law brings new attention to children’s earliest years. In this recent paper, New America and the BUILD Initiative offer an introduction to ESSA and explore major provisions that have implications for our nation’s youngest learners. The paper supports early childhood leaders by introducing key provisions of ESSA that can be a resource to their work. The analysis encourages leaders and advocacy groups to work with state and local systems, using ESSA to support early childhood education generally and to focus specifically on dual language learner success. The paper also provides practical ideas about coalition building and systems development related to ESSA, and the education system more generally.”
  2. Espinosa, L. M., LaForett, D. R., Burchinal, M., Winsler, A., Tien, H. C., Peisner-Feinberg, E. S., & Castro, D. C. (2017). Child Care Experiences Among Dual Language Learners in the United States: Analyses of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort. AERA Open, 3(2).
    From the abstract: “Although quality center-based child care is helpful in promoting school readiness for dual language learners (DLLs), little is known about the nonparental child care that young DLL children experience. DLL status is often confounded with immigrant status, ethnicity, and poverty. Using nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study--Birth Cohort, we examined child care experiences with repeated cross-sectional analyses at 9, 24, and 52 months for DLL and non-DLL children. After accounting for demographic and contextual factors, we found few differences in the quality and type of child care experienced by DLL children and children who hear only English in the home. Child care experiences were more related to country of origin, ethnicity, or immigrant status than DLL status. Nonparental caregivers were more likely to speak the child's home language in home-based care than center care. Findings illustrate the importance of distinguishing among DLL status, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, country of origin, and immigrant status when considering the child care experiences of DLLs.”
  3. Gutiérrez, K. D., Zepeda, M., & Castro, D. C. (2010). Advancing early literacy learning for all children: Implications of the NELP report for dual-language learners. Educational Researcher, 39(4), 334-339.
    From the abstract: “The authors examine the implications and limitations of the National Early Literacy Panel report on the early care of young children who are dual-language learners (DLLs). They examine the relevance of the report for DLLs, particularly the practice in this and other national synthesis reports of extrapolating implications for the education of young DLLs based on a broader population of children. The article addresses the existing gaps in knowledge about literacy practices—knowledge that is central to the development of sound and appropriate educational policies and practices that support DLLs' full development as language and literacy learners.”
  4. Guzman-Orth, D., Lopez, A. A., & Tolentino, F. (2017). A framework for the dual language assessment of young dual language learners in the United States. ETS Research Report Series, 2017(1), 1-19.
    From the abstract: “Dual language learners (DLLs) and the various educational programs that serve them are increasing in number across the country. This framework lays out a conceptual approach for dual language assessment tasks designed to measure the language and literacy skills of young DLLs entering kindergarten in the United States. Although our examples focus on Spanish-English DLLs, we anticipate that our recommendations could be broadly applied to other language combinations with appropriate adaptations for each language.”
  5. Oliva-Olson, C., Estrada, M., & Edyburn, K. L. (2017). Preparing California's Early Care and Education Workforce to Teach Young Dual Language Learners. Issues in Teacher Education, 26(2), 87-113.
    From the abstract: “The stage is set for major change in California early childhood education (ECE). The State's requirements for Transitional Kindergarten instruction, teacher training, and professional development could lead to mandated integration of existing, impressive Dual Language Learner (DLL) resources, guidance, and best practices. In addition to more research addressing the early childhood needs of DLLs ages birth through three, what is needed now to support preschool-age DLLs is organized advocacy of a new preparation and training model as proposed in this article for ECE professionals.”
  6. Sugarman, J., & Lee, K. (2017). Facts about English Learners and the NCLB/ESSA Transition in Select States. Fact Sheet. Migration Policy Institute.
    From the abstract: “The Migration Policy Institute has produced a set of fact sheets providing a sketch of key characteristics of the foreign-born and English Learner (EL) populations in select states. The fact sheets are intended to equip community organizations, policymakers, and others with an understanding of the state demographic context and some of the basics of EL policies under the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB, in effect from 2002 through December 2015) and its successor, the "Every Student Succeeds Act" (ESSA), enacted in December 2015. Links to the individual fact sheets are included herein.”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

("every student succeeds act" OR “ESSA”) AND ("English learners" OR "English language learners") AND ("early childhood" OR "preschool" OR "preK") AND instruction Policy AND ("English learners" OR "English language learners") AND ("early childhood" OR "preschool" OR "preK")

Databases and Resources

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

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 10 years, from 2008 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. 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.