States Move Toward Dual-Immersion and English-Immersion Instruction

Joanne Jacobs:
Amanda Olberg: 617-496-2064,, Education Next Communications Office

States Move Toward Dual-Immersion and English-Immersion Instruction

Rising standards and accountability initiatives have spotlighted weak ELL programs

California’s new set of instructional materials and textbooks for kindergarten through 8th grade incorporates what state education officials describe as a pathbreaking approach to teaching English learners.  The new approach focuses on the quality of instruction rather than on the language of instruction.

In a new article for Education Next, Joanne Jacobs finds that the move away from bilingual education and towards English immersion, or even dual immersion, has been a response to NCLB and the Common Core. NCLB required states to test ELLs and report their subgroup scores, increasing pressure on schools to move students to English fluency and raise reading and math scores. The recent House and Senate revisions of NCLB retained both annual testing and the subgroup score requirement, leading observers to think that ELLs’ progress towards English proficiency will be part of a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Widespread adoption of Common Core standards is also accelerating the move away from bilingual education. Schools are teaching in English to prepare students for Core-aligned tests. In New York for example, and despite the state’s pro-bilingual law, New York City schools are replacing bilingual programs with English-only programs to improve test scores. Administrators want students taught in English if they are going to be tested in English.

The popular revolt against bilingual education started in California in the late 1990s. Ron Unz, a software entrepreneur, realized that immigrant parents, finding their children stuck in low-quality bilingual programs and segregated from their native English-speaking peers, were demanding their children be taught English. He wrote and financed an initiative requiring English immersion, unless parents sign a waiver requesting a bilingual alternative. Proposition 227, known as English for the Children, won a 61 percent majority in 1998. But in a follow-up study funded by the state, the American institutes for Research and WestEd found no clear advantage for English immersion or bilingual education. Researchers found that high-performing schools which employed skilled teachers who used data to assess teaching and learning, had the most success. In other words, what mattered most was the quality of instruction.

Now, as old-style bilingual programs are phased out, dual-immersion schools are gaining in popularity. This model mixes the children of English-speaking parents with ELLs, offering a coherent, rigorous curriculum. Houston, for example, is starting a school where students will learn in Arabic for half the day, a program that has drawn white, Latino, and black students from English-speaking families. The push for bilingualism often comes from English-speaking parents who live in affluent suburban communities and want their children to learn a second language, according to Education Trust-West.

Read “Learning English: Accountability, Common Core and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction,” online on Tuesday, November 10 and in the print edition of the journal by November 20, 2015. For an embargoed, advance copy of the article, please contact Amanda Olberg at

About the Author

Joanne Jacobs is a freelance writer, the author of Our School, and blogs on education at The author is available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. For more information about Education Next, please visit

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