ESSA provides an opportunity to harness concrete, innovative, research-based initiatives that narrow the achievement gap, support all of DC’s student populations, and allow our children to develop critical 21st century skills and make DC’s workforce competitive. In this perspective, the current draft misses out on this opportunity by not specifically mentioning support for dual language education in the District in all the ways ESSA allows for this.

Seizing the opportunity to support the planning and implementation of dual language programs, through the use of Title I federal funding for example, would allow for these necessary, achievement-boosting programs to be equitably available throughout the District.

The populations and customer base of DC and the world are changing. Every child needs to be equipped for this change. DC can go beyond protecting its residents. As a global Sanctuary City, the District of Columbia has the opportunity to truly value and leverage immigrants’ linguistic and cultural diversity to everyone’s advantage.

Aside from the absence of explicit support for dual language programs, we believe there are significant areas of concern in this draft plan that relate to the still disproportionate importance being given to standardized testing (whether captured as proficiency or as growth) and in the other factors to be considered in determining school success.

 Why does support for dual language programs squarely belong in DC’s consolidated state plan?

Foreign language learning is vital to the development of well-rounded students, and it is imperative that all students are provided with an education that allows them be linguistically and culturally competent so that they can succeed as world citizens and compete in the global economy.

In DC, in addition to the research-based advantages listed below, the importance of understanding other languages and cultures is even greater. DC has the highest density of ELs on the East coast together with New York and Florida, and this population is growing faster than any other. Our customer base is changing. Soon most jobs, from marketing to social services, are going to require speaking a language other than English. A very conservative analysis shows over 4,000 jobs requiring bilingual skills being advertised in the DC region each month.

And last but not least, DC parents’ demand for dual language programs far exceeds the offer and is not equitably met across the city.[1]

  • Students in dual language programs outperform their peers on standardized tests, regardless of language spoken at home.

In 2015, a four-year randomized control trial study in Portland, Oregon, found that students randomly assigned to a dual-language immersion program outperformed their peers in English reading by roughly seven months in grade 5 and almost nine months in grade 8.[2] That is an entire school year. This finding is true for ELs as well as for English native speakers.

  • Dual immersion language programs help close the achievement gap between native English speakers and English language learners.

A study in North Carolina found that two-way dual language programs—where English language learners and native-English speakers were educated together for part of the day in English and the other part of the day in another language—increased the Reading and Math achievement of all students, and appeared to close the achievement gap between limited-English-proficient students, non-language minority native-English speaking African-American students, students of low-socioeconomic status and possibly special education students.[3] The aforementioned Portland study finds that students in dual language programs (both two-way and one-way) have 3-point lower rates of classification as ELs by 
sixth grade, and this effect is larger (14 points) if students’ native language matches the classroom 
partner language. 
 Yet, only 20% of the District’s English Language Learners are in a Dual Language program.

  • Learning another language improves an individual’s earning potential later in life.

An analysis of a representative sample of U.S. college graduates found a 2-3% wage premium for college graduates who can speak a second language after controlling for cognitive ability.[4] As an example, bilingual police officers in DC are already paid more than their monolingual peers.

  • Foreign language study improves students’ openness to other languages and cultures.

A study in North Carolina found that a majority of students who studied a foreign language at the elementary school level, ten years later reported a positive view of foreign language speakers and their cultures.[5] This is particularly important in the context of DC’s growing immigrant population and in the context of DC as a Sanctuary City.



[1] A very conservative and out-of-date estimate shows that for each PK4 child accepted in a dual language program in the District there are on average at least five children on a waitlist. This imperfect approximation of demand is based on lottery waitlists.

[2] Study of Dual-Language Immersion in the Portland Public Schools Year 4 Briefing. (2015).

[3] Wayne P. Thomas, Virginia P. Collier and Karyn Collier. (2010). English Learners in North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Education.

[4] Saiz, A. & Zoido, E. (2005). Listening to what the world says: Bilingualism and earnings in the United States. The Review of Economics and Statistics 87, (3), 523-538.
[5] Heining-Boynton, A. L., Haitema, T. (2007). A ten-year chronicle of student attitudes toward foreign language in the elementary school. Modern Language Journal, 91(2), 149-168.

%d bloggers like this: