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Ask a REL Response

Barriers to Implementing Dual Language Programs — March 2021


Could you provide research on barriers to implementing dual language programs at the school, district or community level?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on barriers to adopting dual language programs. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (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. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Amanti, C. (2019). Is native-speakerism impacting the dual language immersion teacher shortage? Multilingual Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication, 38(6), 675–686. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Although Dual Language Immersion Education is growing in popularity in the United States, staffing these programs represents one of the greatest challenges for school administrators. Ironically, this is the case even for Spanish-English Dual Language Immersion programs despite the fact that the United States has the second highest number of Spanish speakers of any country in the world. What barriers hinder Spanish-English Dual Language Immersion schools from filling their teaching positions? This exploratory article suggests that native-speakerism may be part of the problem. Drawing on literature from the field of English Language Teaching, this article goes further to suggest that notions of who is the ideal Dual Language teacher, unless carefully considered, may exacerbate the linguistic marginalization of U.S.-born Latinxs, a group whose Spanish-speaking abilities are too often stigmatized.”

deJong, E. J., & Bearse, C. I. (2014). Dual language programs as a strand within a secondary school: Dilemmas of school organization and the TWI mission. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17(1), 15–31. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Dual language (DL) programs aim to create additive bilingual learning environments where the dominant language and the minority language are given equal status at the program, curricular, and instructional level. While several studies have documented the effectiveness of DL programs and classroom-based practices, few have considered how the organizational context affects the implementation of effective DL practices when the program is only a strand within the school. The purpose of this study was to consider this question in the context of a middle school two-way immersion (TWI) program through the analysis of teacher interviews, triangulated with student survey and focus group data. Our analysis suggests a basic conflict between effective TWI practices and the middle school structure. We conclude that integrated, interdisciplinary approaches that are systemically supported within the school are necessary to support TWI goals and pluralist discourses.”

De La Garza, T. O., Mackinney, E., & Lavigne, A. L. (2015). Dual language instruction and achievement: A need and a void in the Midwest. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 27(4), 363–382. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “In recent years, the benefits of bilingualism through dual language (DL) education models have been well documented. Despite evidence of bilinguals’ heightened cognition and achievement, Midwestern English language learners (ELLs) are relegated to language programs that do nothing to enhance or maintain students’ native language. This descriptive study employed a survey to collect data on existing DL programs across the state of Illinois (the largest population of ELLs in the Midwest), to better understand the challenges facing DL educators and administrators in the nation’s middle. Data suggests the predominant obstacle encountered by school administrators is a lack of qualified DL educators, including an inadequate knowledge of dual language pedagogy and/or limited academic language biliteracy. Dual language program expansion across the Midwest can only continue if the teacher shortage and development needs are addressed. This study presents recommendations for DL teacher preparation and professional development.”

Dorner, L. (2016). The outstanding opportunities, but persistent challenges, of dual language education. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO. Full text available from

From the introduction: “This brief will review research that documents the outstanding opportunities that DL programs provide, as well as introduce some of their persistent challenges.”

Gomez, L. M., & Cisneros, J. (2020). Dual language programs: Questions of access in the state of Arizona. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28(18). Full text available from

From the abstract: “Public schools across the country are increasingly working with children who enter schools speaking a language other than English. Using a case study methodology, the authors examined Dual Language Program (DLP) implementation in Arizona, which by law supports English-only education. Several benefits (bilingualism, bi-literacy, biculturalism, globalization) and challenges (curriculum, teachers, state policy, funding, and lack of access to DLPs for minority language students) are highlighted from stakeholder perspectives. Participants in this study described the paradox of excluding ELLs from dual language programs as inefficient, unnecessary, and wrong. Taking Interest Convergence as a theoretical framework to understand the Arizona context regarding English-only education, this study raises implications for research and practice.”

Hood, S. (2011). Building a cross-cultural community through a dual language immersion program. Learning Languages, 16(2), 12–16. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “This research study evaluates the effectiveness of a Spanish-English dual language immersion (DLI) program. Many researchers have found that high-quality and long-term DLI programs promote academic achievement and high levels of language proficiency for both language groups. Despite the evidence, leaders from the field of bilingual education have identified urgent research questions and barriers to research in dual language education. One of these areas targets the societal, cultural, and political climate that surrounds multilingualism. The leaders stated that opposition to multilingualism creates ‘an antagonistic climate that has strong impact on dual language programs and those who do research in them.’ Leaders in the field recommended that dual language educators collaborate to advocate for an ‘additive’ view of linguistic and cultural diversity. In this report, the researcher presents collaborative efforts of DLI teachers to instill cross-cultural interactions from the classroom to the community. The research findings from this study demonstrated it takes more than a bilingual education program to build a cross-cultural community. Once children step outside the program, they are encircled by a community that separates itself by language and culture. Although the teachers and staff who work in the DLI program have striven to reach out to parents and the community about the cognitive, economic and affective benefits of learning other languages, advocacy is needed on a wider scale. The researcher has assisted the principal and teachers in the advocacy process through publicizing assessment results to administrators, parents, and the bilingual education community. The researcher recommends the establishment of bilingual parent liaisons who would systematically provide parent training so that they would then have the knowledge to advocate for themselves, their children, and the value of living in a cross-cultural society.”

Knight, D. S., Izquierdo, E., & DeMatthews, D. E. (2016). A balancing act: School budgeting and resource allocation on a new dual language campus. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 19(4), 32–46. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Dual language instructional models have great potential to create inclusive learning environments for traditional under-served students and boost student outcomes. However, principals face many barriers to implementation. One of the key challenges is aligning resources to ensure that the school has (a) an appropriate number of certificated teachers, (b) effective professional development for teachers, (c) staffing to work with the local community to garner buy-in from parents, and (d) adequate curricular materials in two languages. This case study demonstrates that successful implementation of dual language may require substantial reallocation of resources, without necessarily creating additional expenditures in the budget.”

Lindholm-Leary, K. (2012). Success and challenges in dual language education. Theory Into Practice, 51(4), 256–262. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This article presents research that highlights the success of dual language education for student participants, both native English speakers and English language learners, from a variety of demographic backgrounds at both the elementary and secondary levels. However, there are a number of challenges that can impede the quality of implementation in dual language programs. This article identifies and discusses some of these important challenges facing dual language programs, including issues related to program design, accountability, curriculum and instruction related to biliteracy, and bilingual language development. In addition, implications for practice are presented to address some of these challenges.”

Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) West. (2019). Ask-A-REL memo: Implementing dual language programs in elementary school. WestEd. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(“Dual language program” OR “Dual language instruction” OR “dual language model” OR “two-way immersion program”) AND barrier OR adoption OR implementation]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and 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.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 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 and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.