Improve Education in the Seattle School District- Support Dual Immersion

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To ensure all students in the Seattle School District have access to a high-quality education, we must urge Mayor Durkan and Superintendent Nyland to expand Dual Immersion education.

What Is It?

Dual Immersion is a type of education where English-learning students are taught alongside English-speaking students. A Dual Immersion curriculum covers the same material as other classrooms, but its classes are taught half in English and half in another language. That second language is usually chosen so that all students will be confident in one of the languages used. The ultimate goal of Dual Immersion education is to cultivate bilingualism and biliteracy in all students regardless of their native language.

Why Expand It?

By improving the accessibility of Dual Immersion education, the Seattle School District would make important strides in supporting its increasingly diverse student body. Dual Immersion avoids the shortcomings associated with traditional English acquisition programs such as ESL and English-only education. Those programs isolate students from their peers and discourage them from learning in their native language. Both practices adversely affect students. English-learning students are on average two grade levels behind in reading and math by the time they reach fourth grade. That gap only grows as they get older. English-learning students in those programs are also less likely to graduate; just 54% of Washington’s ESL students graduate, compared to 80% of students overall. The consequences aren’t exclusively academic. By cutting students off from their classmates and their native language, traditional English acquisition programs deprive them of social interaction and sever their connection to their culture.

How Does Dual Immersion Help?

It’s not the students that are failing, but the programs that are failing their students. A study conducted by the University of Stanford in cooperation with the San Francisco Unified School District found that by eighth grade, students in Dual Immersion programs outperform their peers in other English acquisition programs. Dual Immersion is also linked with higher graduation rates. When the Woodburn School District in Oregon switched from ESL to Dual Immersion, graduation rates shot up by 26%. Research suggests that Dual Immersion actually helps students achieve English fluency faster than ESL; students in Dual Immersion classrooms are 14% more likely to achieve English proficiency by sixth grade than in other English acquisition programs. Dual Immersion means students do not have to choose between academic excellence and mastering English.

How Does It Benefit English Speakers?

Dual Immersion doesn’t prioritize English-learning students at the expense of English speakers; all students stand to benefit from it. Dual Immersion engages students in a second language at the time when they are most receptive to it, which gives them a leg up on one of the most sought-after skills in today’s job market. Students are also offered a suite of cognitive benefits by studying a second language at such a young age; a study by Harvard University illustrated that early engagement in a second language leads to improved critical thinking and creativity, and other studies suggest that learning a second language can ward off memory problems later in life. Any concerns that teaching students in a language besides English could hurt their academics are ill-founded; research conducted by the University of Minnesota concluded that after initial growing pains, native English-speakers in Dual Immersion performed as well, if not better, than English-speakers outside of the program. Most importantly, Dual Immersion unites students from different backgrounds, and celebrates those backgrounds instead of suppressing them or ignoring them.

As it stands, Dual Immersion is only available in eight of the 91 schools in the Seattle School District, meaning that many English-learning students are forced to accept those flawed alternatives. By expanding Dual Immersion the Seattle School District would assert its interest in a brighter future for all students. 

Seattle made a promise to support Dual Immersion education under Mayor Ed Murray; now, we must call upon it to renew that promise, for the benefit of all students, especially those that are chronically underserved.