DC Public Schools (DCPS)’ four strand programs – Tyler, Cleveland, Marie Reed and Powell – are at a crossroad. Historically, other strand programs (SWS, Logan Montessori, etc.) have eventually moved on to whole school programs. DC Immersion believes making the existing dual language strand programs into whole school programs presents six critical advantages for DC Public Schools:
- Rapid increase in highly desirable dual language program seats
- Increase in achievement
- Significant improvement in unsustainable school culture issues
- More efficient use of school based resources
- Equity of access
- Clearer and more robust feeders
Increase in desirable dual language program seats Data from the 2017-18 My School DC lottery published by the DC Public Charter School Board shows a further increase in demand for dual language programs, and waitlists of over 1,000 for all bar one PCS dual language programs, way longer than all other types of program, bar one exception. Unfortunately, we do not have access to DCPS data, but we assume it is similar. Demand for dual language programs far outweighs spaces. Of the different ways for DCPS to capitalize on student enrollment and retention through desirability of dual language programs, turning strands into whole school programs is the most logical and efficient. This must be a priority also due to the problematic school culture issues that are currently attributed to dual language rather than to the inherent dynamics of strand programs. This misattribution of the causes of the dysfunction confuse the issue and taint the conversation around further expanding dual language programs.
Improvement in school culture School culture within at least two of the four schools with a dual language strand is near breaking point with physical and verbal aggression and divisiveness. The strand model creates a competition for the emotional, financial, and space resources of a school. The inherent internal ranking of differing programs within the same building and under the same administration create both real and perceived division which adversely affects school culture. A whole school approach would allow shared vision and goals for the school, strengthening every aspect of the community. Additionally, we know anecdotally that a significant number of students in the English only strand were on the waitlist for the dual language program and less satisfied and less attached to the school as a result of being matched in the English only program. In at least one of the strand schools, a select number of students are permitted to move from the English only program into the dual language program between years at the early grades. This further exacerbates the “them and us” feeling.
Efficient use of school resources A dual language strand model unnecessarily diverts valuable time and energy away from education and precludes the ability to create a more visible and tangible immersive environment benefitting all children. To emerge as truly bilingual and bi-literate, students need context, exposure and greater opportunity than the strand model allows. Examples are
- Signage and common spaces curated in 2 languages
- Out of time programming offerings in target language
- Assemblies and field trips offering target language exposure throughout the city (currently in the strand model all field trips must be parallel between programs limiting immersion possibilities)
Equity of Access Some strand programs are racially and socioeconomically segregated, and at least one school with a dual language program intentionally funnels students who receive special education services into its English only program. We know that dual language programs can bring socio-economic and racial diversity to classes and schools. We also know that students that receive special education services can be effectively provided those services in the context of a dual language program. Expanding strands to whole school presents the opportunity to include the African American community traditionally left out of the conversation surrounding dual language and bilingualism. It also presents the opportunity to include students that receive special education services and more English Language Learners who rely on dual language programs to narrow the achievement gap.
Clearer and more robust feeders By doubling the number of students in dual language programs at schools that already have a dual language strand, DCPS can create clearer and more robust feeders. Additionally, strand programs expanding at the lower grades can bolster world language learning for students in upper grades by creating an environment with greater emphasis on the target language. These older students can be pioneers in re-envisioned feeder systems.
Initiatives crucial throughout the transition from strand to whole school programs are:
- Recruitment and training of dual language ambassadors (along the lines of the successful STEM ambassadors model) to better inform communities in the English only strands about the reasons for the transition both for prospective students and for current students and involve these communities in activities regarding dual language education.
- Professional development of school leadership, teachers and staff on rationale for transition and tools and supports to ensure a successful transition.
- Community outreach to prospective parents and community at large to educate about dual language programs and earmarking of a sister school in the unlikely event they prospective parents were not keen on a dual language program (DCPS must have better data on this but DC Immersion believes this eventuality is remote if proper community engagement and education is done around the transition).