Establishing a new program
Resources for parents
A roadmap to success
Starting a dual language immersion program is not an easy undertaking: it requires time, patience, organization, persuasion, and commitment from multiple stakeholders (parents, school principals, district superintendents). Some states and school districts have actively supported and spearheaded the growth of dual language programs for quite some time now; some states are just starting to recognize the need for and enormous potential of bilingual education for students’ future academic, career and personal success. In either case however, it is precisely the parent group initiatives that often have been the major driving forces behind establishing dual language programs in the U.S. With the help of experts, teachers, and parents from across the U.S., we have collected an array of documents and resources that can guide you on the road to formal bilingual education for your child.
Depending on the state, children start compulsory school education between ages 5 and 7 (typically at age 6). Schools are organized into elementary (primary) schools, middle schools, and high (secondary) schools. Primary or elementary education ranges from grade 1 to grades 4-7, depending on state and school district policy. Middle schools serve students between grades 5 and 9, with most in the grade 6-8 range. Middle schools in the upper grade range (7-9) are sometimes referred to as junior high schools. Secondary or high schools enroll students in the upper grades, generally 9-12.
Public Schools: Primary and secondary public schools are governed by local school districts and their boards. Policies and regulations tend to be uniform across all schools within a district, but can vary among districts. Individual schools are administered within the confines of these general requirements, so autonomy is limited. States vary as to the curricular freedom they give local schools, but most impose a basic statewide curricular framework which local schools may embellish to a limited degree, and also issue a statewide list of approved textbooks for each grade level from which locals may select or, in some cases, require the use of a single set of approved texts.
Private Schools: Private primary and secondary schools are governed by their own self-appointed boards of trustees and raise their own operating incomes without state or local government support. They may be operated by independent boards or they may be affiliated with a religious organization such as a diocese, religious order, local church, or state or national religious organization. Private schools make their own hiring and admissions policies and determine their own curricula and other academic policies. Private schools do, however, pay close attention to local and state school curricula and graduation policies in order to facilitate the transfer of students to and from public schools and to ensure that students who graduate from secondary programs have met or exceeded the expectations for state graduation requirements and – when appropriate - for admission to postsecondary institutions.
Charter Schools: Charter schools are public schools established by parent groups, communities, or organizations to fulfill specific needs, serve special populations, or adhere to special curricula or instructional practices. They receive public funding and support but are freed from school district regulations and may enroll students from anywhere in a district. Charter schools operate via a performance agreement, or charter, that sets forth the mission, program, student population, and methods of evaluation and assessment. Charters usually last from 3-5 years and are renewable.
Magnet Schools: Magnet schools are regular public schools that have a special educational theme, mode of instruction, subject emphasis, or other characteristic and are permitted to enroll students from across the entire school district rather than being confined to normal school attendance boundaries.
Adapted from International Affairs Office, U.S. Department of Education, 2008
Assistant teacher: The regular classroom teacher may have additional support from assistant teacher. In a bilingual environment, assistant teacher may be the one who is fluent in the other (“foreign”) language if the main teacher is not.
Charter school: A public charter school is a publicly funded school (i.e., families do not pay tuition) that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state, district, or other entity. Charter schools are established by parent groups, communities, or organizations to fulfill specific needs, serve special populations, or adhere to special curricula or instructional practices. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. The charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter that is reviewed periodically by the entity that granted it and can be revoked if the accountability standards are not met. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2014 about 5% of all public school students were enrolled in charter schools.
Cluster classes / Special area subjects: Classes at a school with a dual language program that are taught only in English, e.g. music, art, physical education or computer science. They are often not taken into account when calculating the ratio of language exposure in a dual language program.
Department of Education: Education is primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States. It is states and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation. Visit your state’s Department of Education website to find out about specific initiatives and regulations that concern dual language programs in your state. A contact person at your state Department of Education would be a World Languages Coordinator (note that not all state DoE have such a position).
EL (English Learners): Students who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds, who are not proficient in English, and who require specialized or modified language instruction. Other designations for this group include: English language learners (ELLs), limited English proficient (LEP) students (this term is gradually being phased out), non-native English speakers, language-minority students, bilingual students or emerging bilingual students.
Magnet school: A public school offering special instruction and programs not available elsewhere, designed to attract a more diverse student body from throughout a school district or a certain geographic area (e.g. county).
Open house: Most schools provide parents the opportunity to tour the school when classes are in session. It can be done either during a designated open house day several times a year or a request for a private tour can be made in advance. Some schools make it mandatory to visit the school before families are allowed to enroll. Typically parents may visit the classrooms, cafeterias, outdoor space and observe an active lesson in a Dual Language classroom. In German this could be called “Tag der offenen Tür”.
Principal: Head of the school who manages staff and student body, manages day-to-day operations of the school, reports to the superintendent. The principals and superintendents are most often key decision makers regarding implementation of a dual language program at a particular school.
School Board of Education: Locally elected school boards make policy decisions for their school district, within the context of statewide policies set by the state legislature. The school board sets the vision and goals for the district, sets the budget, bargains with the local teachers union, hires and manages the superintendent.
School district: Public schools belong to school districts, which are governed by school boards. A school district encompasses a specific geographical area with defined boundaries. In most areas, the head of the school district is called the superintendent. The size of school districts across the U.S. varies significantly, both in the number of schools they contain and in the geographical areas they cover. Typically, a school district includes multiple elementary (or primary) schools, one or more middle or junior high schools, and one or more high schools. A school district's boundaries may be the same as the boundaries of a city; multiple school districts may exist within larger cities; and in rural areas, a school district may encompass several towns.
Superintendent: The superintendent is the top executive in the school district, who is hired by and reports to the local elected school board. The superintendent implements the school board’s vision by making day-to-day decisions about educational programs, spending, staff, and facilities. The superintendent hires, supervises, and manages the central staff and school principals. The principals and superintendents are most often key decision makers regarding implementation of a dual language program at a particular school.
Zoning: In large cities, every school is part of a district and serves a certain zone. Students living in that zone are usually given preference during enrollment. However, some schools are un-zoned and can accept children from across the entire city.
For further educational terms and definitions please visit edglossary.org.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) defines dual language immersion, or dual language education, in the following way: “In dual language education programs, students are taught literacy and academic content in English and a partner language. The goals of dual language are for students to develop high levels of language proficiency and literacy in both program languages, to demonstrate high levels of academic achievement, and to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of diverse cultures.“
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) offers the following core characteristics of dual language immersion:
- Additive bilingualism with sustained instruction through the majority language (English) and the minority language (e.g. German)
- Subject area instruction through the minority language occurs for at least 50% of the school day during the elementary school years
- Teachers are fully proficient in the language(s) they use for instruction
- Support for the majority language is strong and present in the community at large
- Clear and sustained separation of languages during instructional time
One-way dual language immersion (also referred to as foreign language immersion): This type of program predominantly supports one “language group” of students (e.g. native English speakers) to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural in an additional language, e.g. Chinese, French, German, Russian or Spanish. However, students whose home language is a language other than English also populate one-way programs. The home language might match the partner language, or it might be different from it, for example a student with Arabic language background might participate in an English/German dual language immersion program.
Two-way dual language immersion: Two-way dual language immersion programs serve two language groups together in the same classroom, one group that is English-speaking and another that uses a language other than English as its dominant home language. “Two-way” signals that these two language groups, English and for example German, move simultaneously towards each other’s languages. To serve both language groups equally well, either group should make up no less than one third of the classroom.
Other terms that may be used for two-way dual language immersion include bilingual immersion, bilingual enrichment, and developmental bilingual. However, bilingual enrichment is often used for programs with less than 50% of the school day taught in the partner language. Also, we typically refer to programs as developmental bilingual if they are mostly populated by English learners rather than two equally represented language groups.
The structure of one-way and two-way dual language immersion programs varies, but they all provide at least 50% of instruction in the partner language at all grade levels beginning in pre-K, Kindergarten, or first grade and running at least five years, through grade 5 but preferably through Grade 12.
Further terms and their definitions can be found on the pages of Two-Way Immersion Outreach Project by Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL).
Landscape of dual language education in the U.S.
Roadmap for parents
Below we present a general framework to help you plan the course of action to create a bilingual program.
Being able to speak clearly and knowledgably about the benefits of dual language education to stakeholders (administrators, teachers and families) is key to creating a German dual immersion program. When advocating for a program, focus on the big picture, as represented in the goals of dual language education: academic achievement in the core subjects (English language arts, math and science); high levels of proficiency and literacy in both languages; and appreciation and understanding of different cultures. Equally important is understanding the terminology of the various curricular models offered at public schools. Additionally, if you did not go to a public school in the U.S., familiarize yourself with the school system and understand key educational concepts such as the Common Core State Standards initiative, etc.
Active and engaged parents will form the core of a coalition, ideally together with German teachers in the district, and also the state AATG chapter. Other potential partners include the world language coordinator at the district level, businesses with connections to the German-speaking world, government offices that focus on economic development and trade, German departments at colleges and universities, founders of other dual language programs in your city or state, and German organizations such as the Goethe-Institut.
It is important to assess the status of German in the district where the dual language immersion school will be located, and also the status of world languages as a whole. Here are some questions to ask: Does the district support German? How many schools at which level offer German? Is there a middle school that offers German for students who have completed German dual immersion at the elementary level? Which German teachers are members of AATG, or otherwise professionally engaged? Do any dual language immersion programs currently exist in the district?
The creation of a dual immersion programs requires buy-in from administrators, starting with the school principal. Administrators and other stakeholders will need to know that:
- dual language immersion is a general education, not an elite program;
- a dual immersion program benefits from student diversity;
- German background is not required for participation in German dual immersion;
- instructional models, materials and assessments are commercially available; most important among them are German math books that align with the common core, literacy programs from German publishers, and proficiency tests such as AAPPL;
- existing German dual immersion schools in the U.S. can serve as models; experienced administrators are often willing to share their expertise and provide support;
- parents will participate in promoting the program and recruiting students.