Dual Language Immersion done correctly answers real questions about 21st century education.

The first time I had a real eye opener was during a study abroad.  The next one may have just reaffirmed the first as I went across the planet to help in classrooms in Russia.  The third happened in our humble community school that boasts a tiltingly high percentage of free and reduced lunches.

A four month study abroad in Quito, Ecuador with Oregon State University left me changed significantly.  In this picture, El Panecillo looks out over the high valley where Quito bustles. The desire to return has never been quenched.


It doesn’t take an extensive literature review or an exhaustive tour of programs to see that dual language immersion programs exponentially improve educational outcomes when implemented correctly.  However, the literature reviews have been done and any who would disagree should visit the programs and then look at the numbers of what assessments speak to the capacity of students who have had an education that includes bold support of linguistic development with other core subjects.

All students — no matter their native language — stand to benefit from dual language immersion programs. … Further research has found a meaningful connection between dual language immersion programs and academic success — regardless of a student’s native language. (ACIE)

High-quality dual language immersion (DLI) programs produce bilingual students with better test scores, graduation rates and capacity for working with diverse populations (Bialystok, 2012; Collier & Thomas, 2012).  Minority-language students in DLI programs outperform students enrolled in English language learner programs, while majority-language students in DLI programs outperform peers in traditional (foreign language as an elective in secondary) environments (Viorica Marian, Anthony Shook, and Scott R. Schroeder Northwestern University 2013).

The proliferation of DLI programs for a fifty year span between 1962 to 2012.  The chart looks so dramatic, but in 50 years fewer than 500 programs were initiated according to the graphic.

Our country is in a particular place in its development:  our military has munitions might abounding, but operates with continual lack of cultural competence and linguistic capacity to function in other countries in an informed way–such that Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1998 set forth with intention a need to bring our education up to speed with the new century and new technology.  There is widespread disagreement about the presence of immigrants from other nations,  strong emotional responses are present toward people who carry a legal designation as “aliens”, but are in fact human beings.  A president who campaigned and won on a promise to big a great big wall to separate us from our neighbors to the south.  US borders are mainly water and ethnically similar Canada, isolating our nation from the colorful tapestry of cultures found everywhere else, at the same time technology which brings faraway places ever closer crashes in waves through the screens in our homes and hands.

“We are workers” reads a section of wall between the US and Mexico.  In Oregon and California, the ethnicity statistics of farm workers would support this.

For these reasons, Title VI of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998 set forth  ways in which the federal government wanted to move the nation forward in building capacity for educating the citizenry of the 21st century.Globalization has creates a pressing need to address capacity of the US to participate and show leadership on an international scale.  International skills such as diplomacy, ability to communicate and cultural flexibility have in the past been the domain of government liaisons. However, 21st century advancements in technology, markets and communication require skills in which the US education system has not yet excelled.

The 2007 American Community Survey found that a bit more than 55 million inhabitants spoke a language other than English at home. Among those people, some 51 million also knew and used English and hence were bilingual. This represents 18 percent of the population….

English-Spanish bilinguals represent about half of all bilinguals and hence Spanish is definitely America’s second language. Other important languages, but to a far lesser extent, are Chinese, French, Tagalog, Vietnamese, German and Korean.  (François Grosjean, Ph.D., Psychology Today May 2012)

Supporting effective DLI programs to their maximum potential is a goal worth research and inquiry.  Title VI of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998 states need for more foreign language fluency in the US, particularly of less common modern languages.  Research for many years (Chomsky, Cummins) has confirmed the improved linguistic capacity in early elementary.  More recent research confirms improved academic, cognitive and professional outcomes for students from DLI programs.  Why doesn’t every district in the nation turn to dual language immersion?  Why doesn’t every University have a rich Middle Eastern Studies department?  One could get the wrong idea.

Research has long showed that linguistic flexibility is at its peak in the early elementary years.  Yet most traditional US curriculums start at approximately 9th grade, or 14 years of age.  Counterintuitive if bilingualism is indeed considered highly valuable, and an easy fix relatively speaking.

Linguistic flexibility is developed early on and improved when children attend DLI programs long term.  Early linguistic flexibility predisposes students toward capacity to learn a third or fourth less commonly studied language (Cummins, 1975). US Census indicates (an estimated 20% of US citizens are bilingual, 70% of bilinguals are immigrant– a strong indictment of the US school system’s success with producing bilingual citizens).

Bilingual individuals learn subsequent languages with increased facility (Cummins, 1975).  DLI programs predispose students to learning a third less common language in college and addressing Title VI initiatives.  DLI programs yield the best results in many areas addressed by Title VI as a needed capacity to maintain competitive viability in the global 21st century economy.

Sectors such as healthcare, defense and national security, education and international competitive viability are all directly impacted by and rely on bilingualism and biculturalism in its professionals.  In the pursuit of academic excellence, why are so many students started so late and given only so much instructional time as to guarantee that they stand little chance to come to fluency?  The onus of responsibility is left to the family and student.  Why is the research with regards to requirements for bilingualism/bilculturalism so routinely passed over?  Do these skills not monetize as easily as STEM?

If the current/traditional educational system is not producing bilingual citizens, and dual language immersion programs are, in addition to representing well in other core areas, closing the achievement gap for target language students and producing citizens who are capable of further language learning with increased facility… why would every school in the nation not turn to dual language immersion?

What keeps our educational system from making the leaps necessary?  Where has progress been made?  What were the components that made the difference to nudging the ball forward in increasing capacity in dual language immersion?

The third aha moment I mentioned earlier was in the dual language immersion program in our school district nestled in the Willamette Valley here in Oregon.  I watched my youngest flourish with her peers who represented the true population of our community.  My older daughter had not gotten an ethnic introduction in school.  I watched the achievement gap close incrementally, day by day with every small decision made by the administration and the leadership helping the success of the DLI program.  Outside of the school, red faces behind podiums talked of walls that would be built.  In my own daughters school I saw the bridges that were being built.  I saw our community collaborating in of the additive nature of our Latino families rather that struggling with fear, anger, blame or other complicated emotions that fueled negativity, isolation and the seeds of the problems which play out in the long term in riots and bombs.

These are the questions, goals and visions that fuel the second half of my career.

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