Equity in Spanish/English Dual Language Education: Practitioners' Perspectives

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Sugarman, Julie Sarice
Martin-Beltran, Melinda
Dual language programs have been shown to be one of the most successful models for closing the achievement gap between English-speaking and English-learning students, which can be considered a strong indicator of educational equity. However, questions remains about how equity is achieved within these programs and what equity means to practitioners. This study examines how practitioners define and interpret the concept of equity in the context of dual language education and what program- and classroom-level policies and practices may contribute to an equitable environment. Two interviews were conducted with fifteen teachers and administrators from a variety of Spanish/English dual language programs. In the first interview, participants defined equity and described examples of equity and inequity in their program or classroom, and in the second, participants used six key points from the Guiding Principles for Dual Language Education (Howard et al., 2007) to stimulate their thinking about what evidence they would look for to determine whether the practice described in the key point was being effectively implemented. Five imperatives emerged as key elements of an equitable dual language environment: practitioners cultivate an environment where English and Spanish have equal status, students of diverse ethno-linguistic backgrounds are positioned and recognized as equals, the curriculum and program model reflect the goals of bilingualism and biliteracy, multicultural curriculum and materials are used, and students have access to the curriculum and to educational resources. The types of evidence that participants felt were salient to the evaluation of equity reflected a variety of practices, including teacher and student language use, student grouping, and multiculturalism in curriculum and instruction. Participants also noted the importance of taking contextual factors into account when evaluating equity in a dual language program, including the reasoning behind teacher decision-making, developmental appropriateness and/or alignment with the dual language model, and the effect of the socio-political context in which dual language practitioners operate. Two ways that participants framed their examples of equity were, first, in terms of the challenges that stem from societal attitudes toward bilingualism and minority languages and cultures, and second, that efforts to increase equity have both academic and symbolic purposes.