Demographics and Equity of Dual Language Immersion Programs in Washington, DC

Nov 6, 2019

An analysis of the demographics of kindergarteners in DC public dual language immersion (DLI) schools as compared with non-DLI schools, to move beyond anecdotal evidence, and inform the debate on equity of access to and enrollment in DLI programs. The report highlights areas of concern, and identifies policies and further research needed to allow the District’s most vulnerable students equitable access to these opportunity-boosting programs.


  1. DLI schools are racially/ethnically more diverse
  2. DLI schools have fewer at-risk students
  3. DLI and non-DLI schools changed racially/ethnically in the same direction, but at different rates


Decades of rigorous research conducted all over the nation indicate that DLI programs benefit students regardless of racial/ethnic, linguistic, or socioeconomic background.
  • Students in DLI programs demonstrate higher academic achievement
  • DLI programs are highly effective and long-lasting interventions for English learners
  • Students in DLI programs have improved access to colleges and jobs


DC schools are highly segregated and DLI programs are in high demand and low supply. An opportunity exists to use DLI programs as a tool to integrate schools

“Equity of access matters because research consistently shows that students in DLI are ahead of their peers and are better prepared to compete in the workforce. The District has an opportunity to use high-in-demand DLI programs which are in low supply as a tool to integrate schools while ensuring our most vulnerable students can benefit from these opportunity-boosting programs.”

Vanessa Bertelli

Executive Director of DC Immersion


  • DLI programs should be added in neighborhoods with high densities of at-risk students and investments should be made in targeted outreach to families of at-risk student
  • DLI programs should have at-risk and EL lottery preferences and these should replace dominant language lottery preference
  • Strand DLI programs should be accessible to in-boundary students by-right, in high at-risk neighborhoods

“Recent press and discussions on demographics and equity in DLI programs have relied on different degrees of empirical and anecdotal evidence and, in many cases, on data from individual schools. By directly comparing the demographics of DLI schools to other schools in the District in aggregate for the first time, we hope to provide an empirical foundation for more substantive discussions on DLI schools.”

Rebecca Damari

Director of Research at the National Foreign Language Center