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Number of English learners shrinks at many dual-language immersion schools

The number of English learners is shrinking at many dual-language immersion schools while the number of English-dominant and white students is increasing, according to a new analysis released by The Century Foundation and Children’s Equity Project.

The organizations analyzed 1,600 dual-language immersion programs in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

They found that over five years, the share of English learners shrank while the number of English speakers increased in most dual-language immersion schools in several large cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San José and New York City.

When comparing student enrollment by ethnicity, the number of white students increased at many dual language immersion schools in Los Angeles and other cities, including New York City, Dallas, Albuquerque, Portland and Washington, D.C.

“The potential shifts suggested in these data — from the goal of advancing linguistic equity and expanding educational opportunity for ELs and toward language enrichment for English-dominant children — should trigger alarm bells,” wrote the report’s authors.

Dual-language immersion (DLI) programs are designed to teach both English learners and English speakers in both English and another language, to help all students become bilingual and biliterate in both languages. There is evidence that dual-immersion programs help English learners both learn English and maintain their home language. Ideally, they should enroll equal numbers of students learning English and students who already speak English fluently.

“In order to deliver on DLI programs’ promise, education policymakers will need to protect equitable DLI access,” the authors wrote.

The authors recommended that school districts prioritize enrollment of English learners in dual-language programs, at the same time as making sure these programs are fully integrated linguistically, racially and socioeconomically and represent the surrounding communities. They also recommended districts establish more dual language programs in neighborhoods where more English learners live.