top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Bilingual ed as white privilege

Middle-class, native English-speaking, white parents are flooding into dual-immersion bilingual programs, writes Conor Williams in The Atlantic. In some gentrifying neighborhoods, they’re crowding out children from immigrant families. 

Let’s say a school offers a dual-immersion program in Spanish and English. The model calls for about half the students to come from Spanish-speaking homes (some may speak English too) and half from English-speaking homes.The model is very popular with educated, English-speaking parents, who see bilingual skills as an asset for their children. Immigrant parents often have to be persuaded their kids will achieve English proficiency, which is their top priority. In some gentrifying neighborhoods, dual-immersion bilingual programs “enroll mostly—or entirely—English-dominant children,” he writes, while “native Spanish-speaking students are consigned to English-only programs,” writes Williams.

In Washington, D.C., dual-immersion programs are attracting significant demand from English-dominant families. One of the city’s oldest immersion programs, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, has seen its surrounding neighborhood become so English-dominant (and white and wealthy) that the school is running short on native Spanish-speaking students. Neighborhood students get guaranteed slots at kindergarten, and these are now taken almost exclusively by English-speaking children, so the school has taken to overweighting its pre-k enrollment toward native Spanish speakers, reserving 30 of the 36 available pre-k seats for Spanish-dominant kids. Just 15 percent of the school’s students are classified as English learners. Not coincidentally, just 23 percent of students come from low-income families (across D.C. Public Schools, it’s 77 percent).

Expanding programs to meet demand isn’t always an option: There aren’t enough bilingual teachers.

That was what doomed the old bilingual ed model: Schools never had enough teachers, so bilingual aides — many with only a high school education — taught the neediest children.

Usually a boutique program, dual immersion can’t rely on unqualified aides because the middle-class parents won’t stand for it. They also won’t accept a dumbed-down curriculum, the other besetting sin of the old bilingual model.

3 views0 comments


bottom of page