| Close Window

Dueling Models of Dual Language Instruction

The following article was accepted by BRJ (Bilingual Research Journal) of the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), with a publication date of Fall 2001, Volume 25, Issue 4, Pages 435-460.

Dueling Models of Dual Language Instruction
A Critical Review of the Literature and Program Implementation Guide

Jill Kerper Mora
San Diego State University

Joan Wink
California State University Stanislaus

Dawn Wink

Please note that Jill's webpages are a part of the WinkLinks. Dawn's writing will soon be added as another WinkLinks.

Authors' note: The authors wish to thank the faculty at CSU Sacramento for their support of Dawn while she completed her MA thesis.


This article describes a system for categorizing various theoretical models of dual language instruction. The use of the term "immersion" in the popular parlance is contrasted with its meaning for language educators in describing programs implemented to conform to specific enrichment or compensatory educational principles and goals. A paradigm is presented for examining the congruence, or match, between the theoretical model, teachers' beliefs and actual classroom practices to determine the fidelity, and therefore, effectiveness, of a dual language program. Examples from school districts that exhibit high levels of congruence, and counter examples of programs lacking fidelity to their theoretical underpinnings, are presented to illustrate potential pitfalls of implementation. The results of California's Proposition 227 in providing coherent guidelines for program implementation are analyzed based on the congruence paradigm. Proposition 227 is judged to be a decontextualized procedural model rather than a sound theoretical model for educating language minority students.

Dueling Models of Dual Language Instruction
Introduction and Background

Recent political and policy initiatives have brought about dramatic shifts in policies for educating language minority children and bilingual education programs in the United States. These policy shifts stem from struggles over social dominance among cultural and ethnic groups within the larger society (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). The ideology of cultural and linguistic assimilation and the relative power and status of speakers of different world languages among mainstream, immigrant and minority populations have spawned conflicting social and political agendas that play themselves out in reform initiatives in the public schools. Bilingualism and bilingual education in the United States became the subject of renewed controversy as schools felt the impact of increasing immigration to the United States and California in particular. The most salient example of this societal power struggle is California's Proposition 227, which passed in 1998 with a 61% majority vote. Proposition 227 severely restricted bilingual education for the state's 1.4 million students classified as limited English proficient (LEP), among whom 82% are native speakers of Spanish. The law was rejected by Latino voters by a two to one margin (Los Angeles Times/CNN Exit Poll, 1998), almost the mirror image of support for the proposition among the majority of White voters who identified themselves as conservative. Proposition 227 required that instruction in the primary language (L1) of limited English proficient students be replaced by a one year program of intensive English language instruction labeled "structured English immersion" (SEI).

The all-encompassing nature of Proposition 227's requirements for educating language minority students was not based on a coherent theoretical model that could be interpreted into sound language teaching practices. Instead, the ballot initiative was an attempt to implement language policy by imposing a decontextualized procedural model of second language (L2) instruction in local school districts through legal mandate. Enforcement of the law was through a provision that allowed parents to file personal liability lawsuits against non-compliant educators in the civil courts (Sahagun, 1999, July 1). Proposition 227 restricted access to programs based on theoretical models of dual language instruction including transitional bilingual education, dual immersion and content-based foreign language instruction (Johnson & Swain, 1997; Stryker & Leaver, 1997). Consequently, the availability of resources for dual language instruction and access to sound second language acquisition and learning opportunities through native language (L1) instruction for all students were severely restricted.

Prior to passage of Proposition 227 only 29% of California's language minority students received instruction in a language other than English through transitional bilingual education programs. Following Proposition 227, the number of students in bilingual programs enrolled through the parental waiver process dropped to 12% (California Department of Education, 1999). Students whose parents did not chose to waive Proposition 227's mandatory one-year of intensive English before entering mainstream classrooms were enrolled in SEI programs. A small percentage (8%) of those classified as limited English proficient are in classrooms with bilingual teachers who are prohibited by law from using their primary language as a medium of instruction. Monolingual English-speaking teachers instruct the remaining 80% of California's language minority students (EdSource, 1998).


The purpose of this article is to examine the pedagogical principles embodied in different models of dual language instruction and to identify the pitfalls of effective implementation of these models, given the sociopolitical contexts in which educational reforms take place in local schools and communities. This article focuses specifically on language minority students in bilingual immersion programs. The terms "bilingual," "dual," and "two-way" will be used interchangeably in this article when referring to this one program model. We explore diverse case studies of schools addressing the growing interest and need for universal bilingualism among majority and minority populations. We examine efforts to remain faithful to sound principles of second language acquisition and effective schooling practices for language minority students in spite of attitudes of reductionism and power imbalances within ethnic communities in a diverse society. The outcomes of dual language programs for language minority populations demonstrate that long-term persistent underachievement of language minority students cannot be ameliorated by addressing linguistic factors in the absence of conscientious efforts to also affect issues of status and power (Cummins, 2000; Miramontes, Nadeau, & Commins, 1997, Valdés, 1997). In dual immersion programs that serve both language majority and minority students in the same classroom, factors related to language prestige and expectations for different linguistic groups are salient in determining program outcomes.

The results of Proposition 227 have compelled a reassessment of the relationship between models of instruction for language minority students and program implementation. A report by the University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, García, Asato, Gutiérrez, Stritikus & Curry, 2000) indicated that Proposition 227 exacerbated variations in the quality and type of programs provided for language minority students. The initiative lacked a definition of the one-year "sheltered English immersion" program and the absence of clear guidelines for continuing services for students who had not met exit criteria after one year of intensive English instruction. The new law compounded school districts' implementation problems because of its incoherent mandate without a basis in sound pedagogical principles of second language education and effective schooling practices for students with limited English proficiency (Mora, 2000). We present a paradigm for sound dual language instruction program design and implementation with a formula for analyzing and addressing the complexities and pitfalls in translating a theoretical model into effective schooling practices.

Models of Bilingual Education

Role of Theoretical Models

It is essential to understand the importance of a sound theoretical model of bilingual instruction in effective program implementation for minority and majority language learners. A model of dual language instruction serves several functions. A theoretical model embodies statements about the goals and objectives of the program, providing a "road map" for program implementation and evaluation. A model of bilingual instruction is based on certain philosophical assumptions and pedagogical principles that are articulated into a coherent and continuous progression of teaching and learning activities to meet the specified program goals. In second language education, a theoretical model makes explicit the value placed on bilingualism, biliteracy, and multiculturalism in developing children's human potential as well as in promoting their academic achievement. Theoretical models are expanded and more clearly articulated for implementation through decisions about teacher qualifications, student groupings, language teaching methods and the scope and sequence of academic content.

Ruiz (1984) describes three perspectives on language: (a) language as a problem, (b) language as a right, and (c) language as a resource. The "language as a problem" perspective is reflected in models of bilingual education that view limited English proficiency as a handicap or deficiency that must be overcome and corrected through a focus on intensive English instruction and a remedial approach to instruction. The broad category of programs labeled English immersion in the United States for language minority students fall into this category. The "language as a right" perspective emphasizes the need for equal access to the curriculum through instruction in students' L1 in literacy and all content areas. Transitional bilingual education is often seen as a means of addressing the issue of linguistic rights.

Under the rubric of "language as a resource" models of dual language instruction, we find three program models: (a) dual maintenance bilingual education for language minority students, (b) French Canadian immersion for language majority students learning a second language, and (c) dual or two-way immersion programs that serve majority and minority language groups together in a single program. Lambert (Lambert & Tucker, 1972) identified "additive versus subtractive" forms of bilingual education based on the whether the programs' goals were to produce students with bilingual and biliteracy skills or whether programs were designed to only achieve proficiency in a second, and usually socially dominant, language. "True" immersion programs take an additive approach to bilingualism and are elective enrichment programs established by parents who wish to give their children the advantages of becoming bilingual and biliterate. With the growing awareness of linguistic human rights, dual language immersion programs are often cited as the best manner to provide minority students with equitable education, as well as creating bilingualism in language majority students (Thomas & Collier, 1998; Christian, 1996; Collier, 1995). Ideally, minority and majority students exit the program fully bilingual and achieving high levels of academic success in both languages.

Dual Language Models: Compensatory versus Enrichment

Dueling Models

Language education program models fall along a continuum. Using Ruiz's (1984) categories to describe a range of theoretical approaches, we can identify two extremes: compensatory models versus enrichment models of dual language instruction. At one extreme we have monolingual/monocultural models that view second language teaching and learning as compensatory education to overcome the "problem" of lack of language proficiency among language minority students. In this model the role of students' L1 is minimal or even restricted by local school district policies or state law, as in the case of Proposition 227. At the other extreme we have approaches to dual language program design that view second language learning as enrichment that provides clear advantages to students in attaining high levels of academic achievement, with eventual benefits in expanded career choices and economic opportunities. This is the view of multilingualism as a resource. Transitional bilingual education falls near the midpoint on the continuum because it is a compensatory model that addresses the linguistic and educational rights of language minority students, while providing the incidental benefits of some development of language and literacy skills in L1 as a byproduct of dual language instruction.

Some critics of bilingual education (Porter, 2000) acknowledge the benefits of bilingual "enrichment" programs while claiming that such programs are too costly and too complicated to offer to language minority students. We question the morality of such a position being enacted as a matter of public policy that denies the most effective and enriching programs to our most disadvantaged and vulnerable student populations. (For an alternative viewpoint, see Valdés, 1997.)


Article Continued Part II
Article Continued Part III
Article Continued Part IV