The excerpt below from Diane J. Tedick’s chapter “United States of America: The Paradoxes and Possibilities of Bilingual Education” in “Building Bilingual Education Systems: Forces, Mechanisms and Counterweights” sets out why it makes sense for all advocates of bilingual education to join forces and work together. Sincere thanks to the authors Tedick, Genesee and Mehisto for allowing us to reproduce the complete scholarly chapter here. Highlighting is ours.

“The growth in immersion programmes, the positive media attention surrounding them (e.g. Eaton 2014; Maxwell 2012; Mellon 2014), and recent discussions regarding the repeal of anti-bilingual legislation (e.g. Morrison 2014), perhaps signal that there is hope on the horizon and that the nation may be, broadly speaking, on the verge of a shift towards embracing bi/multilingualism for all.

To give impetus to such a shift, a new paradigm is needed. It is imperative that scholars and educators channel their beliefs and aspirations regarding bilingual education in a united and systematic manner through jointly created mechanisms to advocate for bilingualism for all. All too often forces (e.g. passions and commitments) arise distinctly and therefore align separately with each group–minority-language students, majority-language students and Indigenous-language students. These different ‘camps’ reflect the fact that bilingual/immersion education programmes have emerged in very different ways and for very different reasons for the three groups, as evidenced in the historical account presented earlier. The divide among these three ‘camps’ is reinforced by federal funding streams that serve each community separately, and by other distinct mechanisms that support immersion education for the three student groups, such as different professional organisations and conferences, and legislative initiatives (both pro- and anti-bilingual education).

Yet, as the US continues to diversify linguistically and culturally, the distinctions among the three groups and the programmes that serve them are becoming less clear. Spanish-speaking children are enrolling in Spanish OWI programmes designed for native English speakers; children without Hawaiian ancestry are attending Hawaiian immersion schools; a greater number of ‘third language’ students (whose home language is neither English nor the minority language of the programme) are populating immersion programmes; some TWI programmes are having difficulty enrolling at least one-third English speakers (the recommended minimum guideline for TWI being at least one-third of each linguistic group); and all programme types are serving more ‘at-risk’ youth – socioeconomically disadvantaged, ethnic minority and special needs students (Fortune and Tedick 2008). Given the range of linguistically and culturally diverse students enrolled in many immersion programmes, there are benefits to joining together as professional colleagues. Ultimately, there is much to be gained from coming together with a unified voice in support of bilingual and immersion education, as opposed to just working in separate ‘camps’ and pursuing isolated advocacy efforts.

There are also benefits from joining forces to tackle the persistent challenges that are common across all types of immersion programmes in the US. This could be accomplished by jointly building some of the following mechanisms: (1) effective immersion teacher preparation and professional development programmes; (2) incentives to draw more highly qualified people into immersion teaching; (3) strong secondary programmes and higher education bilingual continuation programme options; (4) pedagogical guidelines to support teachers in helping students develop strong enough levels of proficiency to handle the literacy and other cognitive demands in higher grades (especially with the proliferation of 50:50 models); (5) valid and reliable assessment instruments that can be used to communicate language development targets to students and teachers, track language development, compare programme models and establish grade-level benchmarks to guide programme development; (6) well-developed curricula and classroom-based assessments that integrate language, subject matter and culture, and that make visible specific targets, including assessment criteria, and provide students and teachers with strategies for achieving those targets; (7) well-funded research efforts to address the myriad questions facing the field, and (8) centralised support at the federal level to foster the expansion of immersion and other bilingual programming into the future.

As the number of US immersion programmes grows, as research continues to demonstrate the positive impact of bilingual schooling for all learners, and as the need for language skills increases in an ever-more complicated and integrated world, the US just may be on the threshold of significant change regarding bilingual education. Synergy created through the concerted and co-ordinated efforts of scholars, educators, parents, community representatives and other stakeholders could be a force for change. Our challenge is to find ways of uniting to build that synergy, and to find the right mechanisms to allow us together to tap into the forces and other resources that will help deliver on the promise of bi/multilingual education.”

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