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Implementing dual language programs in elementary schools — April 2019


Could you provide research on implementing dual language programs in elementary schools?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the implementation of dual language programs in elementary schools. The sources 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.

Research References

Alanis, I., & Rodriguez, M. A. (2008). Sustaining a dual language immersion program: Features of success. Journal of Latinos and Education, 7(4), 30–319. Abstract retrieved from Full text available at

From the abstract: “The promise of dual language education has spurred a movement in the field of bilingual education to shift from remedial programs to enrichment forms of bilingual education. Although research supports the effectiveness of such programs, many programs do not maintain their level of implementation and quickly revert to their original remedial form. This research looks at one elementary campus that has implemented a 2-way dual language program for more than a decade. Findings indicate that pedagogical equity, qualified bilingual teachers, active parent-home collaboration, and knowledgeable leadership contributed to the program’s success.”

Alfaro, C., Durán, R., Hunt, A., & Aragón, M. J. (2014). Steps toward unifying dual language programs, Common Core state standards, and critical pedagogy: Oportunidades, estrategias y retos. Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, 8(2), 17–30. Abstract retrieved from Full text available at

From the abstract: “Recent education reforms have begun to reframe academic discussion and teacher practice surrounding bilingual educational approaches for preparing ‘21st century, college and career ready’ citizens. Given this broader context, in this article we examine ways that we might join implementation of dual language programs, Common Core State Standards, and critical pedagogy at the school and classroom levels via a teacher, school administrator, and teacher professional development program. We focus on a concrete example of a partnership between a progressive dual language school along the U.S.-Mexico border, known as Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School, and a bilingual teacher education program in the College of Education at San Diego State University, which prepares teachers and administrators to implement and develop dual language instruction aligned (but not beholden) to Common Core State Standards. We include discussion of a Freirian-based instructional program that helps unite the opportunities presented by dual language programs and standards-based reform initiatives in a deeper equity and social justice framework for educating students. We discuss opportunities (‘oportunidades’), strategies (‘estrategias’), and challenges (‘retos’) encountered during this collaborative work between the bilingual teacher preparation program, a Dual Language school, and one exemplary fourth grade teacher team and their enactment of a critical pedagogy-based curriculum. We conclude with a discussion of implications of our work for education of multilingual learners and the educators that work with them.”

Boyle, A., August, D., Tabaku, L., Cole, S., & Simpson-Baird, A. (2015). Dual language education programs: Current state policies and practices. Washington, DC: Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), U.S. Department of Education. 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 (Valentino & Reardon, 2015; Gómez, 2013; Lindholm-Leary & Block, 2010; Marian, Shook, & Schroeder, 2013). Dual language programs vary in structure, implementation, and enrolled student populations.”

Combs, M. C., Evans, C., Fletcher, T., Parra, E., & Jimenez, A. (2005). Bilingualism for the children: Implementing a dual-language program in an English-only state. Education Policy, 19(5), 701–728. Abstract retrieved from Full text available at

From the abstract: “In November 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 203, a law that replaced bilingual education with a 1-year program known as Structured English Immersion (SEI). Although SEI has little support in the educational or applied linguistics research literature, all English-language learners (ELLs) in Arizona are automatically placed in SEI classrooms. This article examines the effects of SEI on the teachers, administrators, and students at an urban school serving a large number of ELLs. The study found that SEI teachers are largely unaware of the model and unprepared to teach it effectively, that training in SEI strategies has been haphazard, that interpretation of the law’s waiver system by State education officials has seriously reduced the number of students eligible for the school’s dual-language program, and that forcing English learners into SEI is traumatizing some of them and distressing their parents. The study raises questions about the civil rights implications of the law.”

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.”

Howard, E. R., & Christian, D. (2002). Two-way immersion 101: Designing and implementing a two-way immersion education program at the elementary level (Educational Practice Report). Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In the United States, two-way immersion (TWI) is an educational approach that integrates native English speakers and native speakers of another language (usually Spanish) for content and literacy instruction in both languages. In recent years, the number of TWI programs has grown rapidly. This report examines key issues to consider when planning elementary level TWI programs, noting the fundamental characteristics that must be in place for the development of successful programs. Suggestions are based on over 15 years of research on TWI education conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics. Much of the research involves visiting and working with new and experienced programs and learning first-hand about features necessary for a strong program. TWI education is a dynamic form of education that holds promise for developing high levels of academic achievement, bilingualism and biliteracy, and cross-cultural awareness among participating students. Because it requires instruction in two languages to integrated groups of students, it is complicated and challenging to implement effectively. The report looks at the following: essential elements of TWI programs (e.g., definition and goals, criteria for success, and instructional strategies); variable program features (e.g., setting, model, and language distribution); and advice from existing programs (e.g., planning, staffing, and parent involvement).”

REL West note: This article is more than 15 years old, but we include it as a relevant, seminal document.

Howard, E. R., Olague, N., & Rogers, D. (2003). The dual language program planner: A guide for designing and implementing dual language programs. Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This guide offers a framework to facilitate the planning process for dual language programs, assuming at least a basic working knowledge of the central characteristics and essential features of dual language models. It provides an overview of the various models that serve linguistically diverse student populations, defining the term dual language as including four types of programs: developmental bilingual programs, two-way immersion programs, foreign/second language immersion programs, and heritage language immersion programs. The guide presents five steps in the planning process: clarifying the mission; gathering information (e.g., population, parent/community support, administrative support, teacher support, teaching materials, instructional strategies, goals, student assessment, and program evaluation); choosing a program model (with a quiz designed to be a starting point for a conversation about which model may be most appropriate); assessing readiness to implement a dual language program; and action planning (determining what remains to be done to be ready for implementation, prioritizing the tasks, and generating a timeline). Recommended resources and publications and products are attached.”

REL West note: This article is more than 15 years old, but we include it as a relevant, seminal document.

Kotok, S., & DeMatthews, D. (2018). Challenging school segregation in the twenty-first century: How districts can leverage dual language education to increase school and classroom diversity. Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 91(1), 1–6. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Nationally, schools are increasingly segregated by race and poverty as a result of demographic shifts and a changing legal and political landscape. Based on evidence that students benefit academically and socially from attending integrating settings, many school districts are exploring options for providing diverse learning experiences. We examine dual language education as a means for promoting ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse learning experiences. First, we describe the various advantages of dual language both in general and specifically to the creation of diverse schools and classrooms. Next, we provide recommendations for how districts can effectively implement dual language education in a manner that also advances diversity goals.”

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.”

Lindholm-Leary, K. (2012). Success and challenges in dual language education. Theory Into Practice, 51(4), 256–262. Abstract retrieved 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.”

Palmer, D. K., & Henderson, K. I. (2016). Dual language bilingual education placement practices: Educator discourses about emergent bilingual students in two program types. International Multilingual Research Journal, 10(1), 17–30. Abstract retrieved from Full text available at

From the abstract: “This article explores the placement practices of students into different educational programs in PreK-first grade, including two bilingual education programs and an ESL ‘mainstream’ classroom. We then examine the discourse practices of four third-grade teachers and the school principal. Our findings suggest that initial program placement resulted in a perception that students were tracked by ability, and educator discourses on student ability reflected long-term consequences of these initial placement practices. We conclude with both theoretical implications and practical suggestions for the development of equitable dual language bilingual education program implementation.”

Steele, J. L., Slater, R., Li, J., Zamarro, G., & Miller, T. (2013). The effect of dual-language immersion on student achievement in math, science, and English language arts. Conference paper presented at Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) Fall 2013 Conference, Evanston, IL. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Confronted with many challenges to improving the quality of U.S. public K–12 education, many policymakers have viewed the study of a second language as a useful but nonessential ingredient of a world-class education system. However, others point out that dual-language education can be a powerful intervention for closing the achievement gap for English language learners (ELLs), and that it enhances outcomes for both ELLs and English native speakers. Though numerous studies have established a positive relationship between dual-language immersion (DLI) and student achievement in core subjects like mathematics and science, questions about these direct relationships remain. The proposed paper addresses three research questions about DLI: (1) What is the effect of dual-language immersion on student achievement in math, science, English language arts, and the partner language, and on student attendance and behavior? (2) How do the achievement, attendance, and behavioral effects of dual-language immersion differ for native English speakers versus native speakers of the partner language?; and (3) How does DLI program implementation vary across programs, and does that variation illuminate differences in program effectiveness? The study takes place in the Portland Public School district (PPS) in Portland, Oregon, the largest school district in the Pacific Northwest. PPS serves approximately 47,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. The study focuses in particular on the district’s 19 dual-language immersion schools, which include 14 schools with Spanish programs, 3 with Japanese programs, 3 with Russian programs, and 2 with Mandarin programs. Analysis of the first years of data from a 3-year study are still under way. Preliminary descriptive analyses point to the importance of the random assignment strategy in removing selection bias. One figure is appended.”

Additional Organization to Consult

Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) –

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.”

REL West note: CAL has one publication and one toolkit relevant to this request:

Howard, E. R., Lindholm-Leary, K. J., Rogers, D., Olague, N., Medina, J., Kennedy, B., Sugarman, J., & Christian, D. (2018). Guiding principles for dual language education (3rd ed.).

“The Two-Way Immersion Toolkit:”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

[(“dual language” OR “immersion” OR “Developmental bilingual”) AND program AND implement AND elementary]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.7 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 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 2004 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.