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Dueling Models of Dual Language Instruction

Article Continued - Part IV

Teachers' Perspectives

California's Proposition 227 presents an example of lack of congruence between the expectations set for teachers and their actual classroom behaviors, especially their use of students' native language as a medium of instruction as compared with the stated goals of the program. Since the advent of Proposition 227 in California, teachers now are often in a position of understanding and the ability to articulate their own pedagogical beliefs, but not being allowed to act according to these beliefs in actual classroom practices (Gándara et al., 2000).

The following are examples of the lack of congruence between teachers' professional beliefs and their behaviors from Wink (1998). The data included these comments collected from teachers from different school districts, during the 1999-2000 academic year.

Teacher A: "We invited the families to come to school to share their concerns now that there is no more bilingual education. The families were a mixture of Hispanic, Euro-Americans, and Filipinos. Everyone wanted their children to be bilingual; we tried to think of ways we can do this and work around Prop 227. We all decided we would have classes in Spanish after school."

Teacher B: "It is a must that I follow the curriculum at my school; it is mandatory in reading, language, and math. The curriculum tells me exactly what materials are needed and exactly word for word what to say when."

Teacher C: "Before Prop 227, during our English as a Second Language (ESL) time, we had Spanish as a Second Language (SSL) for the English-only students. Since Prop 227, we aren't allowed to have ESL and SSL anymore."

Teacher D: "I have a fifth grade student who came from Mexico last year. In his language he was above grade level in literacy and every content area. This year he does everything in English and works after school with a tutor. I nominated him for Honor Society, and he was denied. Instead, he was retained because he wasn't at grade level reading in English."

Teacher E: "Prop. 227 has had a profound effect on our small campus. Bilingual education is out, and a new immersion program is in. The teacher is English-only and tries to move them into the mainstream classes fast, but because of class size reduction, this doesn't work either. I have noticed that some of our immersion classes have become like quasi resource classrooms."

Teacher F: "I only wish that the [immersion] teacher knew that talking slower and louder doesn't help a child who cannot understand English."

Teacher G: "One of the best things, considered one of the worst things by charter school critics, about our charter schools is that are mostly exempt from the State Education Code, which also exempts us from Prop 227."

Wink (1998) concluded that these teachers' reactions to the discrepancies between Proposition 227's espoused goals of rapid acquisition of English and competencies to enter "mainstream" classes with their own beliefs about effective educational practices for language minority students represent the negative impact of externally-imposed theoretical models of second-language acquisition on dual language classrooms. Gándara et al. (2000) have documented teachers' high levels of frustration and stress, as teachers attempt to conform to policies that are incongruence with their knowledge and beliefs about effective school practices for their student populations.

Congruence Between Patterns of Language Use and Program Model

Congruence Level 3: Program Guidelines-Classroom Language Use Patterns.

Level 3 is the match between teachers' actual patterns of use of the two languages for different purposes in the classroom and dual language program's stated goals and philosophy.

In other words, we examine program implementation to determine whether or not the use of the languages is congruent with the stated program goals and objectives for developing L1 language and literacy skills and achieving full native-speaker equivalent proficiency in L2. Kerper (1985) concluded that discrepancies between what actually occurs in the classroom in terms of language use and what the instructional model indicates about optimal program outcomes may negatively affect program effectiveness.

An example of this level of congruency can be seen in the dual language program in Taylor School District, which is located in a lower socioeconomic area for both Anglos and Latinos. The children in school reflect the demographics of the neighborhood with a balance between Spanish-dominant and English-dominant families. The goals and philosophy of the program are bilingualism, biliteracy, full academic achievement for all, and positive intergroup relationships. The needs of the two groups of children have many similarities; specifically, all children in the program receive an enriched language arts program in both languages. To a very high degree, the teachers feel fortunate to be working in this site because the families are actively involved at all levels of the school community.

This program stands in sharp contrast to the program in Taylor School District, although the stated goals and philosophy of the two school districts' dual immersion programs are the same. In Taylor School District, there is congruence between the goals and philosophy and the patterns of use of the two languages for different purposes. In contrast, the case study of Dorado School District, located in much higher socioeconomic community, documented the disparities in academic success between English-dominant and Spanish-dominant students in a dual language program (Griego-Jones, 1994). Wink (1998) concluded that merely providing instruction in the primary language of language minority students did not necessarily provide educational equity nor opportunities for language majority students. The data reveal that incongruity between the goals and philosophy of the program, and the actual patterns of use of the two languages as mediums of instruction.

Although the stated goal of the immersion program is to promote fluency and literacy in Spanish, the power and status of dominant language of the society, English, manifested themselves throughout the program. With the majority of students being English-dominant, the program overwhelmingly served their needs, although the goals stated that the program was designed to serve the needs of language minority and language majority students. The teachers recognized that the English-dominant children needed to learn Spanish vocabulary, particularly in kindergarten. Therefore, the kindergarten curriculum focused on the acquisition of oral Spanish and introduction to the alphabet. Emphasis on vocabulary served the needs of the English-dominant students, but did not address the needs of the Spanish-dominant students for conceptual development and higher order thinking skills development. Teachers altered their language and teaching methods to reinforce simple vocabulary because English-dominant students did not understand anything but the most basic vocabulary initially. This left native Spanish-speaking students unchallenged.

When asked who benefits most from the immersion program, one Spanish-dominant student, María, responded:

"Depende quién es. Para su hijo sería un buen programa. El podría aprender español. Es mejor para alguien quien no habla español muy bien. (Depends who it is. For your son, it would be a good program. He could learn Spanish. It's better for somebody who doesn't speak Spanish well.)

The focus of Dorado School District's immersion program in the first three grades was on Spanish-language vocabulary development for English-dominant students. Thus, teachers used very basic and rudimentary Spanish with their classes in order for the majority of the students to understand. Native Spanish speakers were not surrounded with the enriched language and vocabulary development appropriate to their needs.

Wink's (1998) findings tend to affirm the concerns about group interaction and the power and status of the languages of instruction expressed by Valdés (1997). Valdés posits the possibility that language majority and language minority students may not benefit equally from dual language instruction, due to the larger context and status conflicts within the communities where such programs are implemented. In the case of Dorado School District, although curriculum in the immersion program was provided in Spanish, the format of the curriculum assumed children have internalized the norms of language use in academic life in the United States. Consequently, patterns of language use became established in this setting that worked to the advantage of the majority language group while precluding full and equal participation of native-Spanish speakers. This artifact of dual language instruction in Dorado School District may be incongruent with the goals of the program, since the stated goal of the program was educational opportunities for language minority and majority students to achieve high academic levels and equal prestige for Spanish and English.


When dual language programs are well implemented, students have access to optimal conditions for academic development in both languages However, simply labeling a particular program "bilingual" or "dual language" or "two-way immersion" does not guarantee success in meeting linguistic and academic goals. Neither can we expect high levels of academic achievement for students in programs that operate under ill-conceived models based on erroneous assumptions and misinterpretations of pedagogical theories and scholarly research. Complex social, linguistic, and cultural factors constantly call upon us to rethink even those dual language programs that ultimately offer the greatest potential for students of the twenty-first century. We proponents of dual language instruction become vulnerable to attack when we criticize some programs labeled "bilingual" because they are not bilingual enough. We run the risk of having our words be cast as condemnation of dual language programs and used to promote an English-centric perspective.

We have learned that we must advocate for sound and effective language policy that supports the advantages of bilingualism as a valuable resource in our competitive global economy and culturally diverse society. We must also demand sound educational policy that supports implementation of effective schooling practices and programs based on coherent theoretical models. In moving forward, our focus is on educational enrichment through dual language instruction for all students.