“Come on, talk to me, so you can see what’s going on.” ~Marvin Gaye
I’ve had several conversations recently about what Language Instruction Education Program (LIEP) model yields the best results for primary and secondary students learning English as a new language in school. That question is simple, but the answer is complex. My response is, it depends. It depends upon various factors; however, one factor remains: mindsets about student potential.
What do you believe your students are capable of? If a learning community does not believe their students are capable of becoming bilingual/biliterate and bicultural, then the programs being offered are only part of the issue.
Another factor related to student success and potential is the climate and culture of their school communities. Positive school climate and culture in part depends upon the relationships established and maintained with the families the school serves, including multilingual families. When attempting to foster relationships between families and schools, potlucks and “bring a dish from your culture” events are often encouraged.
Yes, food is important! Home/school relationships, including family engagement, participation, and the like, are extremely important, but so are the learning experiences of multilingual students. Part of those learning experiences is housed in the program models afforded to students. Let’s prioritize program models over potlucks.
The Buffet Approach
The analogy I use to describe LIEPs is that they are like selecting a meal from a buffet. First and foremost, the federal guidance must be adhered to, but what is offered and selected from the buffet depends on what the learning community chooses. For example, does your learning community offer dual language, English as a second language leveled courses, sheltered English immersion, one-way transitional bilingual, a combination of these, or something else? In 2015–16, the US Department of Education reported two thirds of the states and Washington, DC offered dual language models and 38 states offered LIEP that solely focused on developing students’ English proficiency (US Department of Education, 2019). What is offered, served on the buffet, to multilingual students largely depends upon where they live in the US.
Let’s take into consideration the students who do not participate in any of the LIEPs, those who participate in general education courses only. What types of supports are they receiving or not? During a recent conversation about LIEPs, one educator stated, “often there still seems to be confusion around what we offer and how we offer the supports linked to each model.” Another reflection expressed similar concerns: “our district has many different program models; however, not all programs are fully understood. This leads to confusion for some staff, which then filters down to the quality of student instruction.” Being clear about what is offered and the intended outcomes is key to setting students up to be successful college- and career-ready, autonomous learners. Once we determine and clarify what LIEPs are offered, I then ask if other educators in the district/school know what LIEPs are offered, including their intended outcomes. The latter receives far more “no” or “not sure” responses.
- What Language Instruction Education Program models are offered to multilingual learners in your district?
- What are the intended outcomes for students?
- Do other educators know what Language Instruction Education Program models are offered and their intended outcomes for students?
LIEP models are multifaceted and do not work equally well for all multilingual learners. Take, for instance, the language groups within a learning community. Are all languages groups afforded the same opportunities to become bilingual and biliterate? If not, how can we improve our offerings? In 2015–16, state educational agencies (SEAs) reported a total of 40 partner languages offered in dual language programs. Spanish was the most common language offered (US Department of Education, 2019).
More recently, Palm Beach County School District in Florida opened its first dual language Haitian Creole program during the 2022–23 school year, which is similar to the population served and the dual language program offered by the Toussaint L’Ouverture Academy (see www.languagemagazine.com/2021/07/07/young-bilingual-and-black) in Boston, Massachusetts.
What multilingual learners have access to regarding developing literacy, bilingualism in their native language, and English does not necessarily have to depend solely on their zip codes of residence. For this to be true, mindsets and creative approaches to LIEPs must be cultivated. Access to and participation in a high-quality LIEP is an equity issue!
Staffing Program Models
To say that there is a need for more qualified administrators and teachers is an understatement. In a recent article, “United for Bilingual Education” (www.languagemagazine.com/2022/09/27/united-for-bilingual-education), Valdez, Rodríguez, and Alvarez (2022) explained how educators are championing for bilingual education across the Dominican Republic. Followed by Nelson’s (2022) interview, “Revolutionizing Language Acquisition Programs through Leadership Coaching,” both highlight the need for staffing and support for both teachers and administrators of LIEPs. With a nationwide shortage of educators, vacancies in LIEPs are exacerbated.
A number of initiatives are in place to address the shortage of qualified educators, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). The findings from the survey of California educators “Voices from the Classroom: Developing a Strategy for Teacher Retention and Recruitment” found job satisfaction, teacher retention, diversity and inclusion, preservice teacher preparation, and policies that support these initiatives are imperative (Language Magazine, Oct. 2022). In Massachusetts, Latinos for Education are advocating for the Educator Diversity Act, which would serve as a national model for diversifying the teacher pipeline through state-level policy (www.LatinosforEducation.org). In Philadelphia, the Center for Black Educator Development (www.thecenterblacked.org) serves to advance the profession by increasing the number of Black educators, specifically Black males. Collectively, we are working toward the same goals, offering more options for linguistically diverse students, their families, our communities, and the next generation of educators.
Next Steps: Revisit, Reimage, and Reinvest
Part of our work as advocates is to revisit, reimage, and reinvest in LIEP models and their intended outcomes for students. Do we have data, both qualitative and quantitative, that proves what we offer is best for multilingual students? If so, does that apply to all multilingual learners or just certain ones? That’s my answer to “what program models are best?” The ones that are preparing college- and career-ready, multilingual autonomous learners.
Cooper, A., and Nelson, R. (2022). “Revolutionizing Language Acquisition Programs through Leadership Coaching.” Language Magazine, 22(2), 42–44.
US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2019). “Dual Language Learning Programs and English Learners.” https://ncela.ed.gov/files/fast_facts/19-0389_Del4.4_DualLanguagePrograms_122319_508.pdf
Valdez, J., Rodríguez, D., and Alvarez, E. (2022). United for Bilingual Education. Language Magazine, 22(1), 34–37.
Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is an advocate, Pass the Mic editor, and owner of A. Cooper Consulting. She is the author of And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools (Corwin) and is currently serving on the board (2020–2023) of TESOL International Association.