Between the pandemic’s global health crisis, heightened culture wars and sharp political polarization, it’s been a particularly difficult few years for U.S. public schools. School board meetings host arguments over how — and whether — to narrow schools’ curricula. It’s hard to find consensus about what makes a great 21st-century school.

And yet, in most American cities — and a wide range of red, blue and purple communities across the country — a quiet consensus has formed around dual language immersion programs. These bilingual schools appear to appeal to everyone — for the past two decades, their numbers have rapidly increased. They’re popular because they offer 1) all students the chance to become bilingual in diverse learning settings, and 2) English learners the best chance to retain their emerging bilingual skills and succeed academically. But in a joint Century Foundation and the Children’s Equity Project report published this week, we show that these bonuses aren’t a certainty.

First: What are they? The most effective are “two-way” dual language immersion programs. These offer bilingual instruction and a bilingual social world — by enrolling roughly equal shares of children who are native speakers of English and children who are native speakers of the program’s other, “partner,” language. This is a major improvement on traditional U.S. language courses, where one Spanish-speaking (or French-speaking, or Arabic-speaking, etc.) teacher tries to cajole a classful of native English-speakers into conjugating verbs. It is also an improvement on traditional U.S. bilingual education programs, which usually only offer bilingual instruction long enough to transition English-learning children to English-only instruction.

It’s an elemental question of fairness: research suggests that policymakers should prioritize equitable dual language access for English-learning children, but also that diverse, linguistically integrated programs work best for ELs and English-dominant children alike. And, of course, the program’s popularity with the privileged can make it difficult to find a balance.

To get a clearer view of the situation, our new report analyzes more than 1,600 dual language schools enrolling more than 1 million students across 13 states and the District of Columbia. It explores the different ways that cities and school districts are navigating that tension in their dual language programs.

Read the full article about dual language programs by Conor P. Williams and Shantel Meek at The 74.