An ethnographic comparison of two dual-language programs

Date of Completion

January 2003


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies




In a growing number of American schools, majority and minority students are learning together through two languages in programs which aim to develop dual-language proficiency along with academic achievement (Lindholm-Leary, 2001; Howard & Christian, 2002). During the 2000–2001 school year, 362 dual language programs were in operation in 209 school districts encompassing 35 states and the District of Columbia (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2002). Fifteen years ago only about 30 such programs existed in the country (Crandall, 1998). Dual language programs are considered effective ways to meet the educational needs of English Language Learners (ELLs). Approximately 80% of these programs use Spanish and English as the languages of instruction (CAL, 2002). Programs vary by design, curriculum and instructional strategies, and minority-majority interactions (Calderón & Minaya-Rowe, 2003; Ovando, Collier, & Combs, 2003). ^ The purpose of this ethnographic study was to examine and compare the components of two dual language programs, a newly implemented program in Southern New England and a long established program in the Southeast. Both programs seek to promote better understanding between language majority and language minority communities, and quality curriculum design and instruction that enrich each program (Howard, Olague, & Rogers, 2003; Cloud, Genesee, & Hamayan, 2000). A review of the literature fails to locate studies to account for the implementation of these programs (Cazabon, 2001; Valdes, 1998). Data were collected through key informant interviews, direct observations, videotaping of instructional practices and document reviewed. ^ The analysis process resulted in the following conclusions. First, three major areas of performance—quality school, quality curricula and quality instruction—were found to be the basic components that exemplify quality dual language programs. Second, effective practices for teaching literacy and content area instruction evolve around the quality and sustainability of three overlapping traits—teaching strategies, instruction, and curriculum implementation. Third, minority and majority group relations in the two programs exhibit a spectrum of practices from fully integrated to very little integration. The schooling process has a role to play in promoting the interaction. Fourth, parent and community involvement is not being practiced as strongly and earnestly in these programs via conventional and non-conventional activities. Although there are important instances of collaboration, particularly in the Southeast Dual Language Program, minority parents still feel detached from the school and ambivalent about their role in their children's schooling. Fifth, the emerging model is rooted in the analytical understanding that the dual language program and encompasses the incorporation of minority and majority cultures, and languages, inclusion of community representation, multicultural curricula, clear and visionary designs and implementation processes, and a variety of instructional practices that enhance the program. ^