Know Your Options: Questions to Ask Your School Regarding Bilingual Education and Other Language Learning Programs Before You Enroll
Parents, guess what? You have choices – choices for your child’s education. Yes, there are many limits on your choices for education, especially for multilingual education. However, being aware of the choices you do have available empowers you to make the most informed decisions about your child’s education.
First, let’s talk about choices for multilingual education beginning with elementary education.
Many schools in Austin Independent School District (AISD) have some form of a bilingual education program for Emerging Bilinguals (also known as English Learners). These programs currently are:
- “Early Exit” Bilingual Education – where Emerging Bilinguals receive educational support in the native language for the first year to two years of primary education before transitioning into 100% English.
- “Late Exit” Bilingual Education – where Emerging Bilinguals receive limited educational support in the native language throughout their primary education before transitioning into 100% English.
- Dual Language Education (one-way) – where Emerging Bilinguals receive at least 50% of their academic instructional education in the native language throughout their primary education while also receiving educational instruction in English.
- Dual Language Education (two-way) – where both English learners and native English speakers receive at least 50% of their academic instructional education in the target second language throughout their primary education while also receiving educational instruction in English.
For native English speakers, multilingual programs in elementary include:
- Dual Language Education (two-way) – this program is designated by the state to be a bilingual educational program serving English language learners. However, the two-way model provides opportunities for native English speakers to join English learners in learning and academically advancing in both the target language and English.
- Full Immersion – Similar to a one-way Dual Language program for English learners, this format provides native English speakers academic educational instruction in a target second language in addition to instruction in English.
- Languages Other Than English (LOTE) classes – With LOTE classes in elementary school, a separate class period is set aside from other academic instruction, anywhere from 1 to 5 times per week, to specifically teach students a target language other than English. The amount of exposure to the target language is significantly less than in the dual language or immersion model. However, language learning can be effective in this model with effective instruction, and consistent and frequent classes throughout a given school year and across the entire elementary program. For example, a student receiving a LOTE class five days per week during each year of elementary school will learn significantly more of the language than a student who receives LOTE classes twice per week throughout elementary school.
Now, let’s explore middle school options for multilingual education.
Austin Independent School District has been implementing vertical alignment strategies to support multilingual education throughout a child’s secondary education. However, many gaps remain in the number of languages offered, when and how language programs are offered and the level of quality of each program. Moreover, many parents and students often remain uninformed on how to navigate and prioritize language learning programs within the district without having to give up on other desirable programs within secondary education.
For students who participated in a dual-language program in elementary school, chances are that their school district will be vertically aligned with a middle school and high school that also offers a dual-language program. However, just because your student was in the dual language program in elementary school does not automatically mean that your student will be enrolled in the dual-language program in middle school and beyond. Below are questions and considerations when choosing your child’s middle school.
What kind of support does your middle school offer for language learning?
- Does your school offer a dual language program?
- If so, is the dual-language program part of a vertical alignment from elementary to high school?
- Find out what is required to be accepted in the dual-language program? Some schools will require your student to submit a new application to be accepted in the dual-language middle school program, despite the student being in the dual-language program in the elementary school that it is vertically aligned with.
- Many dual-language programs can be added to other programs such as select magnet school programs. Ask how your school accommodates class schedules and class options so that students can participate in both dual-language and other select programs.
If the middle school does not offer a dual-language program, what other programs does it offer Emerging Bilinguals?
- Some middle school programs will offer language courses for native speakers of that language such as a “Spanish for Spanish” speakers class.
- ESL classes at this age are usually reserved for students who have recently arrived in the United States and who have not yet been exposed to much English.
Find out what world languages other than English (LOTE) are available for all students during their middle school years?
- Ask what language classes are offered and what levels in each are available? LOTE classes offered in middle school may also reflect an interest in the language based on the demographics it serves. For example, advanced levels in Spanish and Arabic may be offered where a significant portion of the student population are from families of heritage speakers of those languages.
- Find out what grades the LOTE classes serve and what exceptions, if any, can be made. Unfortunately, some middle schools will not allow 6th graders to begin taking a LOTE class. On the other hand, some schools with such policies may allow for exceptions, especially if the student has prior experience in the target language.
Important Points to Consider in Evaluating Both Elementary and Middle School Options:
What changes, if any, will the school be making in the near future that will promote multilingual education.
- How will those changes impact your child’s ability to engage in and/or opportunity to learn more than one language?
If your neighborhood school does not provide adequate multilingual education to serve your student’s needs, are there any other schools nearby that do offer the multilingual program that best serves your family?
- Do those schools offer transfer options? If so, what are the criteria required for transfer? What is the deadline to apply for a transfer? What exceptions, if any, are granted?
- Other things to consider are: How far away is the desired school from your current location? Does the district offer free transportation?
How Well Does the School Promote a Cohesive Community that Values Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness?
- Are the school’s multilingual programs diverse and inclusive?
- How does the administration promote a strong community and inclusivity across diverse groups?
- What community-building programs does the school incorporate that promote positive cross-collaboration, learning, and understanding? How effective are they?
How interested and enthusiastic is your school’s principal in supporting and/or expanding multilingual education throughout the school’s primary program?
- We still live in a culture where a significant percentage of our society view being bilingual as a “nice thing to be” but not a “necessity.” This view often is reflected in school policies and ultimately in the programs available for language learning and language support. Understanding the administrative’s perspective upfront will provide some insight on how much priority and support the school is likely to give its LOTE and/or emerging bilingual programs.
Be Vocal About What Multilingual Programs You Want in Your School.
The language learning model each school is using and/or will be developing depends greatly on local resources, budget, staffing, the interest level by the community and administration for the program, and the dedication for faithful implementation of the program by the school’s administration. Notwithstanding, parents also have a profound ability to influence their school’s administration by:
- communicating what they want for their children’s education,
- asking questions to hold the administration accountable for faithful implementation of the language program,
- supporting local school parent/teacher networks that support multilingual education,
- and learning more about what other options you and your child have.