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Advancing Dual Language Education

Jenny Muñiz summarizes the latest recommendations

Dual-language programs, which provide instruction in both English and a partner language, are rapidly emerging across the country. Yet despite their growing appeal, state and local dual-language implementation policies and practices remain inconsistent.

This makes it difficult for both new and existing dual-language programs to assess the quality of their programs and plan for improvement. The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLENM), and Santillana USA address this challenge and outline a set of quality benchmarks for dual-language programs in the newest edition of the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education.

For two decades, dual-language teachers and administrators across the country have used this resource to design new dual-language programs and to better evaluate existing ones. (In a new report, Amaya Garcia highlights the Westminster School District, which used the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education as a central resource in the design of two lauded dual-language programs.)

The third edition of the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education was published this year—one decade after the publication of the second edition—and was developed with the support of practitioners, researchers, and administrators. In this revision, the authors—Elizabeth R. Howard, Kathryn J. Lindholm-Leary, David Rogers, Natalie Olague, José Medina, Barbara Kennedy, Julie Sugarman, and Donna Christian—cite up-to-date research and offer recommendations that reflect the most recent developments in the dual-language arena.

Some of the newest developments in the third edition include: 

  • Highlighting the benefit of expanding dual-language programs from pre-K through twelfth grade;
  • Outlining how programs can approach sociocultural competence;
  • Exploring the role of assessments;
  • Promoting the use of technology; and
  • Proposing ways to safeguard access to dual-language programs for English learners.

Pre-K–12 Alignment

While most dual-language programs are still found in elementary schools, dual-language programs in secondary schools have become more common in the last decade. The growth of programs for older students is due in part to the increasing number of students graduating from dual-language elementary programs and research that shows consistency and alignment are critical to the academic success of English learners.

As dual-language programs become more popular in middle schools and high schools, however, the need to carefully plan for quality implementation and strong alignment between “feeder” schools increases.

The new Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education puts more emphasis on pre-K–12 alignment (as opposed to K–8 alignment in the last edition) and recommends that, whenever possible, dual-language programs develop pre-K–12 alignment plans even before implementing their programs.

Sociocultural Competence

Of the three pillars of dual-language education, the third pillar—sociocultural competence—is considered the most overlooked. However, according to David Rogers, one of the authors, it is now gaining more traction: “We often refer to the third pillar as the forgotten goal, and districts would pass over it when they were creating their alignment, but now a lot more schools are adopting dual-language programs because of the sociocultural competence component.”

The third edition defines sociocultural competence as “a term encompassing identity development, cross-cultural competence, and multicultural appreciation.” An emphasis on this concept makes sense because when incorporated successfully it can lead to positive outcomes for the self-esteem, cross-cultural attitudes, second-language attainment, and overall academic achievement of students.

The authors include key descriptors in the third edition that provide more guidance to dual-language educators about how to systematically support the cultural and linguistic diversity of English learners while concurrently providing content instruction in both languages.

Educators seeking to reach the highest level of quality—what the third edition denotes as “exemplary practice”—in sociocultural competence must embed a variety of sociocultural strategies (e.g., identity development, cross-cultural awareness, conflict resolution, perspective taking, empathy development) into content learning at all grade levels, in all subjects, and in both languages.

To support sociocultural competence, the third edition also affirms the first pillar of dual-language education—biliteracy and bilingualism. The authors underscore the need to support “additive bilingualism” (an instructional model in which students can learn a second language while retaining the home language) by implementing cross-linguistic strategies and ensuring both program languages have equal status.

Teachers who go as far as to elevate the status of the partner language and use language as a resource to improve family and community engagement can achieve exemplary practice in this area.

Assessment and Accountability

A recent development in the dual-language arena, and the field of education more broadly, is a collective re-evaluation of assessment practices. Educators are shifting from focusing on test prep to focusing on improving instruction—a shift that has been animated by the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) last year.

Such a change is important because the high-stakes standardized testing that NCLB popularized dramatically narrowed educators’ understanding and use of assessments by characterizing assessments only as vehicles for accountability and, often, harsh sanctions.

The third edition challenges this dominant narrative and defines assessments as what they actually are: tools for evaluating and improving instruction. One recommendation, for example, asks educators to incorporate more formative assessments in addition to summative assessments. (The purpose of the former is to continuously gather feedback and adjust instruction, and the purpose of the latter is to measure success at the end of a unit or year, such as in end-of-term standardized tests.)

The new edition also emphasizes the importance of assessing students in both languages and suggests using multiple measures in both languages when making decisions about placement for special programs (e.g., special education and gifted education).



Opportunities for incorporating technology in the classroom have increased with the development of new digital tools (e.g., online learning, game-based learning, interactive whiteboards). In response to this shift, the authors encourage the regular use of technology in the classroom.

Educators seeking to reach exemplary practice in this area need to develop “new, innovative, technology-based lessons” that can help students “meet content, language, and literacy standards in both program languages at all grade levels.” The authors also emphasize the need to share digital tools within and between schools.

This is an important change because evidence suggests some low-income students may not have access to technology at home. Without regular access to technology, these students can be at a disadvantage when participating in technology-rich lessons or new computer-based assessments.

Access and Advocacy

One of the drivers behind the rapid expansion of dual-language programs is their rising popularity among the parents of native English speakers who recognize the benefits of bilingualism in a globalized world.

And while dual-language programs can serve as quality enrichment opportunities for native English speakers, they are especially beneficial for English learners. Dual-language advocates are now concerned that students who need dual-language programs the most will be left behind.

José Medina, another contributor to the third edition, recognizes this risk and notes, “One of the things we [the authors] target in this new edition is the idea of privilege in dual-language programs.”

This objective is important because, as he correctly observes, “Dual-language programs cater to parents that are most vocal, which most often are English-speaking parents.”

To address this concern, the third edition of the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education contains specific language that underscores the importance of working with parents and communities to secure access to these programs for English learners. As Medina explains, “In this third edition the focus is not just parent involvement, but parent advocacy.”

The publication of the third edition of the Guiding Principles of Dual Language Education comes at an opportune time—as bilingual programs are expanding rapidly across the nation, in some places for the first time. The growing popularity of these programs among native-English-speaking parents and nonnative-English-speaking parents alike makes it necessary to support dual-language policymakers, administrators, and teachers in quality program implementation.

The authors of this resource hope it will do just that—and have even made the resource available for free online download. According to David Rogers, the authors have “high hopes that this document will help guide people who are implementing a dual-language program to go back with a microscope and analyze the key components of their programs to ensure they are improving.” Indeed, with the help of this resource and the hard work of dual-language educators, more dual-language students will benefit from exemplary practice.

Jenny Muñiz is a Millennial Public Policy Fellow for New America’s Education Policy program. A native of Compton, CA, Muñiz has most recently spent time working as a bilingual teacher in San Antonio Public Schools as a Teach for America corps member. This article was originally published by New America (


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