Improve Education in the Seattle School District- Support Dual Immersion

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To better serve students in the Seattle School District, we must push Mayor Durkan and Superintendent Nyland to expand Dual Immersion Education.

What Is It?

Dual Immersion is a type of elementary school education where English-speaking students and English-learning students are taught together. It covers the same material as other educational programs, but its classes are taught half in English and half in another language. That second language varies, but generally, all students will go in already be fluent in at least one of the languages used. The ultimate goal of Dual Immersion is to build bilingualism and biliteracy in all students regardless of their native language.

Why Expand It?

By expanding Dual Immersion beyond eight elementary schools, the Seattle School District would take a critical step towards supporting English-learning students.  Dual Immersion overcomes the shortcomings associated with other English-acquisition programs, including ESL and English-only education. Those programs isolate English-learning students from their peers and discourage the use of the student’s native language in instruction. Both practices adversely affect students. English-learning students are on average two grade levels behind in reading and math by the time they reach 4th grade. That gap only grows as they get older. English-learning students in those programs are also less likely to graduate. Because of how widespread these programs in Washington, just 54% of our English-learning students graduate, compared to 80% of students overall. The problems are not just academic; by isolating students and cutting them off from their native language, these other programs deprive students of social interactions 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 the students. A study by the University of Stanford in cooperation with the San Francisco Unified School District found that by eighth grade, English-learning students in Dual Immersion programs were receiving significantly higher test scores than their peers in other English-acquisition programs, thereby shrinking the achievement gap. They are also more likely to graduate; when the Woodburn School District in Oregon switched from ESL to Dual Immersion, graduation rates shot up by 26%. Beyond that, there is substantial research to suggests that Dual Immersion actually helps these students achieve English fluency faster than ESL; students in Dual Immersion classrooms are 14% more likely to achieve English proficiency by 6th grade than in other English-acquisition programs.

Unfortunately, Dual Immersion is available in just eight of the Seattle School District ninety-one schools, meaning that many English-learning students are forced to enroll in those deeply flawed alternatives. English-learning students are an ever-growing but chronically underserved group in the Seattle School District. By expanding Dual Immersion beyond eight elementary schools, the Seattle School District would take a critical step towards supporting English-learning students.  

How Does It Benefit English Speakers?

Dual Immersion doesn’t try to help English-learning students at the expense of English-speakers; all students stand to benefit from it. Dual Immersion engages English-speaking students in a second language at the time in their lives when they are most receptive to it, giving them a leg up on one of the most-sought after skills in today’s job market. English-speakers are also offered a suite of cognitive benefits by studying a second language at a young age; a study by Harvard University illustrated that early engagement in a second language leads to children developing improved critical thinking and creativity, and other studies suggest that learning a second language can ward off memory problems later in life. Concerns that teaching English-speakers in a second language could hurt their academic achievement 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.

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 not just English-learning students but for all students.


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