Portland dual language study linked to significant reading gains
- A study of Portland Public Schools’ dual language program by researchers at the RAND Corporation and the American Councils for International Education provides unusually compelling evidence in favor of the power of the model for all students.
- In an interview with New America, Robert Slater, a co-principal investigator of the study, says Portland uses a lottery for program admissions, which provides a unique opportunity to remove selection bias from the outcomes and lends more credence to findings that students had seven months of additional reading skills in fifth grade and nine months in eighth grade.
- English learner students who participate in dual language programs where the target language is their native one also tend to graduate out of their English learner status more quickly — Portland’s dual language program has been around since 1986 and includes Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Vietnamese target languages.
Dual language programs are getting quite a bit of attention in recent years. In many places, this is driven by demand among monolingual English-speaking families who want their children to experience the cultural and workforce benefits of being bilingual in a global age. In other places, schools and districts are approaching dual language for its value to English learners, who, through the programs, can become proficient in English while reinforcing and strengthening their native language and ties to its culture.
Bilingual education got such a bad reputation in the 1990s that “dual language” is somewhat of a re-branding effort. Dual language classrooms feature bilingual instruction, too. Massachusetts and Arizona still retain bans on bilingual education that voters approved in 2002 and 2000, respectively, while New Hampshire has its own legislature-created ban. California is the first of these states to backtrack, effectively overturning its ban in the November election.
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