by Krischa Esquivel
Dual language schools, also called dual immersion programs, are popping up all across California and the United States. But what exactly are they and what’s the big idea? These are questions many parents and educators are asking.
This topic may seem new to some, but dual language programs have been around for 10 years. The purpose of a dual language program is to allow children to become completely fluent (reading, writing and speaking) in a second language. Many programs are English/Spanish combination, but there are also programs that teach French, Italian, Chinese, German and Armenian. There arealso different curriculums used to teach a second language. Some programs use the 50/50 model in which children receive instruction 50% of the time in 1 language and 50% of the time in a second language. There is also the 90/10 model. This model increases the number of hours of instruction in English as the child progresses through school. For example, while in kindergarten, a child will receive instruction in the second language for 90% of the day. The percentage increases as they move through the grade levels, leveling out to about 50/50 by the 3rd or 4th grade.
As an educator and a mother, I believe these schools are excellent for a number of different reasons. In the world we live in, it has become imperative we know more than 1 language. Research shows that the younger a child can acquire a second language, the easier it is for them to learn and apply to their lives. Learning a second language allows for the brain to work in ways it never would. It teaches children to develop deeper listening and observation skills. Children learn to the different rules of each language simultaneously which allows for a deeper level of comprehension and problem solving.
Dual immersion programs are also excellent for children whose second language is English. They no longer go into the classroom with a deficit, but rather an advantage. They are able to learn the proper us of their language while helping their peers learn as well. The stigma of ELL (English Language Learners) that school districts often put on these children is erased. They will learn English as the same rate and same time as their peers who have English as their primary language.
One of the problems that have come up with dual immersion schools has been the inability to accurately and appropriately test the gains of the students. Bottom line, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has no test to measure these students. Even worse, schools that use dual language curriculum still have to take the standardized tests created by the NCLB Administration. What does this do to the school scores and ratings? It greatly reduces them. The majority of dual language programs are categorized as low performance schools, in need of bringing up their scores. Going into the classroom and watching the children’s level of comprehension and engagement in the lessons, it becomes evident the standardized tests are not accurately capturing the learning gains. Unfortunately, year after year, dual language schools are defending teachers, their curriculum and if they are a charter, defending their Charter status and funding. Yes, on paper children who are learning a second language experience a short set back, but by the time testing is done is the 3rd grade and beyond, those gaps have been eliminated and children are excelling in BOTH languages.
As with any school, all programs have different, philosophies vary and teaching styles vary. If you are interested in your child attending a dual language school, do your research. Go into the classrooms, observe the instruction, see how the teachers individualize for each student. Take the time to talk to the administration and ask to look at test scores for ALL grade levels. To appreciate the excellence of these programs, you have to be willing to learn and do your own research.
Do you have a child or children in a dual language program? Do have further questions? Please leave any comments or questions in the comment section. This is hot topic, and with NCLB getting closer to being eradicated, or at least greatly modified, I anticipate an even greater influx in dual language schools.
Below is a link with dual immersion programs in the U.S. although it may not be reflective of all of the programs available. http://www.cal.org/jsp/TWI/SchoolListings.jsp
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