From Keeping the Faith in Education: Dual Language by Marisa Hellawell with Ava Munoz, PhD


Growing up in New Jersey, in the suburbs of New York City, my life was a beautiful tapestry of languages, foods, colors and cultures. My days were vibrant, flavored by the diversity of people. Many of my friends were Italians whose world revolved around family gatherings and food. They served elaborate Sunday dinners involving multiple courses and, yes, they were far more verbal than my family. My sister’s good friend was Korean and would eat seaweed as a snack. My church held annual picnics that resembled international fairs with foods from around the world. In school, I remember having lengthy conversations with my Indian friend about the contrasts of Hinduism and Christianity, and I will never forget eating my pizza and watching my Asian schoolmate open up a lunch that looked more like a piece of artwork. This was my normal.

I grew up believing I was the oddball because I only spoke one language and didn’t know what countries my grandparents were from. We were not close enough in time to our immigrant ancestors to know, compared with my friends in New Jersey, many of whom lived or had close relationships with their immigrant grandparents. When I moved to northern Texas to go to college, I realized the life I had in New Jersey was special. Texas was eye-opening. Even though it was linguistically diverse in its own way, it wasn’t as multi-colored as the New York tri-state area. There were the Hispanic parts of town, true, but the white parts of town were very white. Texas has large numbers of immigrants, the majority Hispanic. It was in Texas that I realized how monolingual the United States really was. Monolingualism is more than speaking one language; it encompasses a separate world of attitudes and philosophies.
It was in my 20s that I decided my monolingual life wouldn’t suffice. Not only did I want to become bilingual for more opportunities, I loved language and culture and wanted to diversify myself. What better way than through language.

My father learned Russian in his college years. He became fluent in Russian which helped him get his foot in the door of a top federal agency. We relocated from the Midwest to New York City. Language opened up a whole new world for my dad and our family. Language was a gift to him. He went from paving driveways in college and later working in a corporate credit department to guarding the national security of the United States.

I, too, began my own language journey and it changed my life. After learning Spanish in my 20s, I started my career as a bilingual teacher. I pursued my master’s in education with a focus on bilingual education. During those years I studied Spanish intensely and became fluent.
I became an ESL/Bilingual program coordinator after five years of teaching in ESL and bilingual classrooms. I am now an Assistant Principal. When I stepped into my first classroom as a teacher thirteen years ago, I realized I could influence the students in my class, but my heart wanted to be outside the classroom. I longed to influence the critical program choices as an administrator to make sure teachers had the best platform to teach from and that students were participating in the best programs.

After my master’s degree I decided to continue on and pursue my PhD in Educational Leadership with a focus on language programming. A PhD was not ever in my life’s plan. I was always an average student. I didn’t study hard and was satisfied getting by with B’s, C’s and occasional A’s. I never really challenged myself, and I was always more interested in socializing or sports than studying. I never dreamed of becoming a PhD candidate. But this all changed after I learned Spanish. Yes, with age I matured, but I also gained an ability to focus and really retain what I was hearing in lectures. What my dad and I didn’t realize, but what occurred nonetheless, was that with bilingualism come cognitive advantages. Because of the influence bilingualism has had in my life, I am a strong supporter of Dual Language education. Dual Language education is a school program where children in the elementary years learn to read, speak and write in two languages. It is a program that offers bilingualism to all students including low-income, those with special needs, and students of all ethnic backgrounds.

Following my childhood just outside of New York City, I was astounded as an adult to hear and see such monolingual attitudes and English-only beliefs across the United States. Demographically, the majority of the United States population is identified as monolingual. However, the degree of language diversity within the United States is extensive. Census 2010 findings report that in the last ten years the percentage of speakers of non-English languages grew by 140% while the overall population grew by 34%. The public education system, anticipating the need to support English Language Learners (ELLs) implemented various forms of bilingual education to support this burgeoning portion of the student population. Dual Language programming was one of the programs implemented.

For twenty years, bilingual programs have been expensive and ineffectual. They were exclusive in nature, typically serving only language-minority students. They were also unable to close the academic achievement gap any better than a strong English as a Second Language (ESL) program. I want to be an advocate of bilingual education, but low high school graduation rates of ELLs are a sign of poor programming. There is a linguistic need for bilingual education programming, but for programs to be successful they must be implemented based on language acquisition processes. In other words, programs needs to last at least five to seven years, or the amount of time our brains take to learn a new language. Historically, the intentions of bilingual education were good, but results were extremely varied due to quality of program choice and implementation. Higher program costs, inconsistent results, and serving typically only the Spanish-speaking immigrants resulted in very little support for bilingual education in the United States.

The strongest form of bilingual education, Dual Language, has gained popularity in the last decade. With the first Dual Language schools scattered across the United States in the ‘60s and ‘70s, this program has now become a movement. Dual Language is a program that teaches students their academic material in two languages. The program never translates lessons. There are multiple variations of scheduling options. For example, by second grade students may study one day in English and the next day in the second language, let’s say Spanish. By third grade students may study one week entirely in Spanish and then switch to a week in English, starting a new lesson in the core subjects. Spanish is the most popular language, although there are Dual Language programs teaching any language based on the community’s immigrant population. Usually by fourth grade, students become literate in both languages, and students in the programs are both native English speakers and native speakers of the other language. Dual Language education has high academic results and is inclusive of all population groups.

Dual Language is a program that provides opportunities for all of our children: meeting the linguistic and cultural needs of the language minority, closing the academic achievement gap, providing opportunities of bilingualism to the native English population, and restoring high-quality programming in traditionally low-performing districts. This is a unique type of bilingual education program, called an enrichment program, that has the ability to break through typical monolingual schooling culture in America if it’s implemented soundly.

Dual Language programs offer many benefits to our society, as can be seen in my own personal life. While philosophically the United States may cling to mono-linguistic beliefs, whether we are all ready or not, we need to make the leap forward and understand the need for strong language programming. Dual Language programs prepare our students to deal with the global economic environment they will be a part of. We cannot continue to recruit multilingual workers from other countries to fill our employment needs and country-security needs.

World events occurring over the last ten years show us how linguistically handicapped we were. The nation was in such desperate need of employees who spoke Arabic, Farsi and other languages fluently that the federal government had to outsource services to linguistic consultants. We need to raise our own multilingual population that can be employed by American corporations and by our national security agencies, rather than relying on other countries to provide these employees for us.
Researchers over the past few decades confirm that the Dual Language program model is highly effective and one of the most—if not the most—successful bilingual education programs in the country. Across the United States, Dual Language program implementation is advancing rapidly. A sign of the popularity and growth of this program can be seen in Texas, California, Illinois, and Florida. This rapid increase in program implementation reflects the desire of school districts across the nation to address the shift in the language diversity of the American population. The nation is within a Dual Language movement that has the potential to provide a wealth of opportunities to multiple populations. Students in Salt Lake City, for example, can learn Mandarin Chinese, while students in Illinois public schools can learn Japanese, and in California students can learn Korean.

There are economic rewards for our communities when we provide opportunities for multilingualism. There are significant health benefits, too. Research has shown that bilingualism builds a better brain. Dual Language programming is difficult to start, but it has a higher chance of success and longevity if we start with school leaders. I want to challenge educational leaders to take ownership of these programs and be more proactive in program maintenance. Whether the leader is bilingual or monolingual, school leaders are essential to this educational reform.

Dual Language Programming Goals
The goals and features of Dual Language programs are unique compared to other types of ESL and bilingual education programs. Here are nine critical features of Dual Language programs that researchers agree on. While bilingual education can have multiple names, the name does not make the program. The program must be consistent with these features, to be identified as a true, enriched language program:
• Parent involvement
• High standards
• Strong leadership
• Integrated curriculum
• Integrated with other school programs and schools
• Additive bilingualism (a language is added to a student’s academic repertoire, not taken away)
These language goals include bilingualism, bi-literacy, multicultural competence, and academic achievement. Ultimately, a goal of full bilingual proficiency is the purpose of Dual Language programs.

Overcoming Bias: A Revolution
In Texas, communities are changing rapidly. Once all-white communities are now becoming very diverse. With this diversity comes a new set of challenges. The school system that is in place is not sufficiently meeting the needs of the new community. Albert Einstein distilled the issue in these words, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” To make relevant change, principals must relearn and approach education differently. Staff integrating a new Dual Language program need a paradigm shift that addresses attitudes of monolingualism and mono-culturalism. Investment in the program and belief in the benefits and societal needs for bilingualism is essential to success. English-only sentiments are a sure-fire way to block a new Dual Language program. The staff, whether monolingual or bilingual, can become well-versed in the benefits through research-based specialized trainings, book studies and professional developments.

Dual Language program implementation is more than a reform movement on a campus. It’s a revolution. Whether the first language program introduced or the conversion of an existing language program to a Dual Language program, a true reform movement is necessary. The school campus must adopt a new paradigm to accept the program’s goals and vision. Herein lies the challenge. Some dual language program implementation is attempted in a very subtle way; campuses may try to ever-so-slightly tweak an existing program to become a Dual Language program. But you can’t tweak mono-linguistic ideas in hopes they one day convert into a multilingual philosophy. These foundational beliefs are too drastic to just naturally evolve. Reform movements need to be systematically implemented. Change is never easy, and radical change is not natural for anyone. So educational leaders need to approach reform movements with a calculated and research-based approach. We cannot succeed in Dual Language programming if we still believe the United States should be monolingual or if educators and administrators still believe, against the results of research, that the only way forward is through English-only curriculum.

Language programming in the past was only available to exclusive communities or private schools that could afford additional specialized language programming. Not anymore. The beauty of Dual Language programs is that it brings this exclusive education to all populations, including the low-income, at-risk schools. Some members of society are challenged when the poorer communities or minority populations have access to this type of programming. Friction is created by conflicting philosophies on the education of these sub-groups, which can result in a lack of support or outright protest of the language program. I see this in educational circles and in my personal life among circles of friends. Everyone wants the best opportunities for their own children. When only one population group is served — in bilingual education this tends to be the Spanish-speaking students — then parents with mono-linguistic children are jealous that their children do not get this opportunity also. This can result in parents or social groups not supporting language programming because school funding only serves part of the school population. Dual Language programs eliminate this bias. It provides language opportunities for all students. This is why program understanding and program leadership is so important. We need to educate the school community on the goal, visions, and benefits of Dual Language programming. With educational leadership support, Dual Language programs can become the new way forward in the American education system.

Speaking in terms of language programming, Dual Language significantly closes the academic achievement gap between English Language Learners and native English speakers. This translates to more ELLs graduating high school and going to college, higher test scores, more students staying in school, and overall higher academic achievement. In two-way Dual Language programs, programs that include native English speakers, the benefits extend to academic growth of these learners beyond the national averages. Dual Language goes beyond service to English Language Learners or Limited English Proficient Students (LEPs).

The potential of Dual Language programming is notable because it is not just preparing the “traditional” student to meet marketplace demands. The base population for Dual Language programs is the minority, at-risk and low-income students. This is tremendous. This is what public education in the United States needs: a new program that can change education at its very core. We need a program that can steer us away from chasing down average successes and once again propel us toward excellence.
One successful district in Texas is graduating students that are multilingual. These students’ early academic years were conducted in two languages; by the time they reached middle school they were fluent in Spanish and English. They then began to study a third language as a foreign language. This is true educational success, to see students who are marked at-risk—meaning they are at risk for not graduating—not only graduate along with their middle-income counterparts, but graduate with multilingual skills to attend schools like Harvard. Imagine a fourth grade classroom where a Hispanic child, a white child and an African-American child sit together at a table working on a book report in Spanish. They read a book in Spanish, write a report in Spanish and present to the class in Spanish. They also have the ability to translate this report and presentation to English for a parent night. This is beautiful to see.

Second-Order Change
Many parents get excited about their children reading, writing and presenting in a second language. Why is it not happening in more schools? Getting a Dual Language program on the ground and running successfully is a challenge because it requires a major shift in the thinking by staff and community members.

Technology has made this large world very small and has increased the speed at which change occurs. This is even more significant in schools, where these changes are seen year to year. While teachers and leaders need to be Gumby-like in their flexibility to handle change, school leaders need to understand the differences between systemic change and daily change. A second-order change can be likened to the birth of a child. In a family unit, many daily changes occur. The birth of a child drastically shifts the family core, daily functions and overall family unity. This is a second-order change. The family transition will occur more fluidly when they have prepared for the new arrival.
Dual Language program implementation is no different; it is the birth of a new program for the district and especially for the school campus, a very exciting one at that. The school community must be prepared for its arrival and be aware of the potential benefits the program offers to all the students of the community. Dual Language presents issues of language as power, and in this day and age students with strong English skills along with another developed language have more power, or leverage, in the workforce. This is evident in our workforce today. Immigrants are filling an economic need in our country. I recently tutored three families from Brazil and Mexico who moved to the United States with a top financial organization. The company was desperate for individuals who not only spoke Spanish and Portuguese, but could handle traveling successfully between multiple countries. This top organization has a demand for multilingual individuals that have a multicultural life perspective. If we, as Americans, do not accept the world is getting smaller, and to survive in it we need to be multilingual, then we will default on these economic opportunities. Dual Language provides bilingual and multilingual opportunities and produces students with a strong sense of multiculturalism. Dual Language programs require active administrators that understand second-order change and realize that we can offer our children high-quality education that will compete with any other educational system from around the world.

I participated in a district’s shift to Dual Language. The district’s Hispanic population was growing, but was still the minority. The majority population was white. At the beginning of our district’s shift, our team got pushback from board members and custodians alike. Their educational philosophies did not support Spanish in the curriculum. At first, they were not willing to do what it takes to allow students to learn to read and write in Spanish at the elementary school level. Dual Language implementation is called a second-order change, which, as explained above, is a change that requires a paradigm shift among the staff and families. A deep change is required that reverberates to the depth of the teacher and staff member and challenges the individual to reconstruct his or her understanding of language ability and equitable education. The Dual Language program has had tremendous success. Students of all ethnicities are speaking English and Spanish fluently. Students take Spanish AP courses in middle school because of their high proficiency in the language and receive college credits. But, this district’s successes came after many years of invested efforts and struggles.
Dual Language programs face multiple challenges that can stall successful implementation if proper leadership willing to make Second-Order Change is not in place. I have found there is a tendency for Dual Language programs to fall into old bilingual education program practices, as is true with most new programming in school. If the change effort is not monitored until full implementation is achieved, old program habits will gradually return. I have spoken with multiple bilingual education teachers—many teaching in Dual Language programs—who talk as though they support the program, but in their classrooms and behind a closed door they are teaching according to their own convictions. This may mean the teacher does not believe the students need to maintain their bilingualism and focuses only on English. Surprisingly, this is a common belief of the older Spanish-speaking generation. They were not provided this bilingual opportunity; they survived by learning Spanish from their relatives and therefore have not fully committed to Dual Language practices. They believe, based on their personal experience, and as many immigrant parents believe, their students should be in English-only classrooms. These views are based on false second-language acquisition presumptions, that language is learned best by being submersed in it. It is also an effort by immigrant families to show their support of English as the official language of the United States. By the second generation, children begin to lose their native language at rapid rates and by the third generation their native language has become a mix of English and the native language. In Texas, we say “Tex-Mex.” Therefore the students do not have the same language abilities the bilingual teachers once had. Bilingual teachers, to become teachers, were most likely from an educated home. They most likely were very smart students or received lots of home support. So they themselves are an exception to the norm. That is why teachers must teach based on research practices and not based on their own biases or their own experiences, because it does not apply to the student body they are teaching. If the paradigm shift does not happen among staff, then old habits will dominate. No matter what intentions the school board and central administration may have for the district, if the second-order change is not supported and monitored by school leaders, the school personnel will carry on with educational practices that align with their beliefs. With any type of new program that is a reform movement, leadership is essential in making sure program fidelity is maintained.

Another challenge blocking the second-order change of implementing a Dual Language program is education’s concepts of success and achievement. School board members and superintendents see the big picture and often vote to implement programs with intentions of systemic reform. This vision struggles to trickle down through the school system. Elementary principals are evaluated and viewed as successful or unsuccessful by the achievement of their students on standardized assessments. Therefore, the focus of elementary principals is on the success of their early childhood to grade-five students. Middle school principals focus on sixth through eighth grade students and high school principals focus on grades nine through twelve. If test scores go down in their age range in one year, the principal’s job could be in jeopardy. The risk in test scores going down temporarily while a Dual Language program is implemented is too high. Standardized tests are in English, so even though there are long term advantages to being a multi-lingual learner, many schools won’t make the second-order change.

I will never forget a conversation I had with an assistant principal the day after the state assessment. He was so proud of a third grade student who was so committed to the state examination that this eight-year-old tested for ten hours and completed the exam at six in the evening. She “gave it all she had.” The intentions of the assistant principal were genuine. He really believed in what he was doing. But we as a society have a skewed view of success and achievement when we are proud of testing little children nearly all day.

Thomas and Collier’s comparison of bilingual education programs in their national study found that in third grade only slight differences exist between student achievements in language programs. It’s not until students are participants in advanced grades that the depth of differences in programming and their correlations with academic achievement are visible. They become drastically significant by middle school and high school. Due to education’s hyper focus on success and achievement and the high-stake environments principals now work in, school administrators’ coping skill is tunnel vision. Principals focus on results that pertain to the achievement of their campus’ students, in the grade levels relevant to their schools, and no longer look holistically at the students as life-long learners. The fall out of this near-sighted focus in school leadership is the election of programs that are easier to implement, simple to staff, and at times produce similar results in the early years, yet fail to serve the students for their entire kindergarten through college educational careers. The schools get what they need—decent results fast—but cheap programming hurts the students in the long run.

This is an epidemic affecting most American schools in this assessment-day-and-age. There is a narrow focus on the immediate success of students on state examinations versus a focus on the long-term development of a child. This is not only occurring in education, but across the board in American culture. A recent local sports article on girls’ soccer took a look at the recent focus the last few years on winning, even when girls were young, versus investing in the girls and building a strong team for the future. The article shared some insights into the American perspective. The author addressed how coaches are recruiting girls that help their teams win. However, the players they recruit are based on size and not talent. This selection process works short term, but not long term. The bigger and older girls provide immediate successes; however, long-term success for older teams and even national girls’ soccer teams requires not size, but skill. Unfortunately, coaches and even parents fail to commit to long-term successes; they prefer to win today. The soccer organizations spend their time and efforts on developing only the type of girls that provide the immediate wins versus developing balanced teams that will provide successes year in and year out.

Seven Leadership Responsibilities of Education Reform
Change is inevitable in the 21st Century. School leaders need to be prepared to handle change and understand the differences between systemic change and daily change, and have the know-how to adapt to these changes. Alvin Toffler suggests that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The world will continue to change and our monolingual status as a country has increasing multilingual business market demands. The American school system has the responsibility to develop students prepared for this market.
The potential of Dual Language programming is exciting, but the new challenge is getting school leaders to move from old mono-linguistic or bilingual program paradigms into a new Dual Language paradigm. A principal does not have to be bilingual to lead the program successfully, and it seems a natural reaction of monolingual principals to feel intimidated or inadequate. Informed principals can be just as successful in leading any reform movement, including Dual Language programs, regardless of their status as monolingual or bilingual, as long as they are aware of the leadership responsibilities associated with second-order change.

In a recent leadership conference I attended, principals were asked what they viewed as the most important leadership responsibilities. These school leaders were shocked when they realized what research stated as the top three most important leadership responsibilities: affirmation, change agent, and contingent rewards. I believe a deep analysis of change is needed if principals are going to be key leaders of systemic reform, and this analysis must include what leadership responsibilities they should focus on. Robert Marzano’s book, School Leadership That Works, defines twenty-one important leadership responsibilities associated with student success. All of the twenty-one leadership responsibilities are important, but only seven, 1. Knowledge of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, 2. Optimizer, 3. Intellectual Stimulation 4. Change Agent, 5. Monitoring/Evaluation, 6. Flexibility,  and 7. Ideals/Beliefs are linked to second-order change. Therefore, principals can be armed to successfully lead schools through a second-order change, such as a Dual Language program implementation, if they become proficient at these seven leadership responsibilities.
School principals struggle with making choices that are beneficial for the whole district, versus choosing programs that benefit, most immediately, their specific campus. They struggle with electing low-cost programs over investing in programs that have long-term results. They struggle over programs that might offer temporary versus permanent solutions. These decisions require sacrifice. Top administration is responsible to ensure that all school members are presented with the big picture so that they understand the long-term goals of Second-Order change (reform) programs. Success will not be instant, but it can and must be sustainable. In order for systemic change to take place, school leaders need to embrace change that will revolutionize the way we look at language.

Strong leadership is the key to educational reform. Effective program choice depends heavily on the experience and effectiveness of school leaders. I worked in schools where the principals created strong, supportive communities. In these schools the Dual Language program was highlighted, students shared announcements in multiple languages, and students who became bilingual were honored. In other schools, where principals had philosophies opposed to the programs or simply lacked understanding of program goals, they intentionally or unintentionally derailed the program. I experienced schools where the program was hidden so as not to bring attention to the program. A strong principal can guide the school community through these difficult waters and to the shores of academic success for all students, but they can also steer the school onto an iceberg.

I face the same challenge principals face in educating my own children. If I enroll my kids in a Dual Language program, their English reading levels and writing levels may not be as advanced as if they were in English-only in the lower grade levels. This is because they are learning two languages, and it takes longer. Eventually their reading and speaking skills will catch up and surpass their peers. So am I willing to give up temporarily higher test scores for the long-term reward of bilingual children? Will I seriously consider sending my child to a school with students that are from poverty backgrounds yet can share in an education with my child in learning to become bilingual and multicultural?

Dual Language programming is a reform movement that can improve all students’ academic achievement. Dual Language programming can bridge cultural gaps and academic gaps. It’s a beautiful program model that brings students together by increasing awareness and appreciation of cultures, languages and other people. Dual Language is a program for all students to learn multiple languages. Bilingualism creates a more efficient, flexible and resourceful brain. Most important to educational entities, Dual Language programs have the ability to increase every student’s potential. School leaders who are trained to lead reform movements and can navigate the seven leadership responsibilities of second-order change, offer hope for powerful education reform.

English-only may initially seem like the best way to educate our immigrant children. Yet English-only is not only the worst performing program, it eliminates culture from children’s lives. Diversity can be intimidating to people who have never known anything but their own ethnicity. Yet America was founded with a spirit of acceptance and tolerance. Dual Language programs bring students together by sharing culture, not eliminating it. Language builds a stronger brain. Bilingualism provides opportunities.

I am a richer person because of my wealth of language. I am a more sensitive person because I appreciate cultures. Rather than limiting opportunities, I believe we need to use the resources our immigrants and bilingual citizens have to build a stronger school system and to build a future generation that is more cognitively adaptive and culturally sensitive. The question is, as an educational administrator, will I begin with my own children?