New Study Examines Costs of Dual Language Immersion Programs

Blog Post
Sept. 28, 2018

Dual language immersion (DLI) programs—where students are given academic instruction in two languages—are becoming increasingly popular due to the economic, cognitive, and academic benefits bilingualism may confer on students.

Because DLI programs offer specialized instruction, it’s often assumed that they cost more to implement than monolingual programs. For example, they need qualified bilingual teachers who understand the different program models as well as teacher professional development. They also need curricula and instructional tools in languages other than English. Moreover, logistical costs in DLI programs need to be considered, including the process of enrollment in DLI programs, which requires the management of slots and transportation for students in these programs. While many studies have examined the academic impact of DLI programs, there is scant research on the costs of these programs.

A new study, published in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), explores the costs of DLI programs and monolingual English programs in Portland Public Schools (PPS). The study aims to uncover differences in these programs spending over time and analyzes the processes by which these programs are connected with student achievement. Portland Public Schools (PPS) has a long history of supporting DLI and uses a lottery process for student admission into these programs. In 2012, PPS partnered with the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, RAND Corporation, and the American Councils for International Education to conduct a comprehensive study of their DLI programs, including academic impact and implementation.

In this new study, researchers examined the annual costs of DLI programs compared to monolingual education and the sources of these costs. Then, they looked at the ways DLI program enrollment, spending, and classroom characteristics (i.e., teachers, peers, and class size) are connected to the relationship between immersion access and student achievement. And finally, they explored differences in the effects of participation in DLI on English language arts (ELA) and math achievement by student race/ethnicity.

There are three important findings in this study:

First, researchers found that resources were distributed equally across DLI programs and monolingual English programs. But an analysis of school-level and district-level spending revealed that DLI programs incurred higher spending at the central office due to the need of qualified staff to provide specialized professional development, assistance to the human resources department on the recruitment and hiring of qualified teachers, and support to the curriculum department to provide compatible curriculum in the partner language.

Second, findings highlighted that an additional cost of $100 per student was associated with a positive impact on ELA achievement. Moreover, findings showed that students enrolled in DLI increased ELA achievement by an additional 8 percent on average across grades. However, researchers found that neither teacher or peer characteristics were related to the ELA achievement of students in DLI programs.

And third, findings indicated that in ELA, there are more positive effects for African American students than for White students in DLI programs. These findings were not statistically significant, but show interesting trends regarding the differential impacts of DLI on student subgroups. In addition, the authors warn that these results are not generalizable beyond this study meaning that they can’t be taken to mean that all DLI programs have the potential to close the achievement gap. Rather, researchers write that their findings “show us what is happening . . . in a large urban district with a well-established, large-scale system of immersion programs, but effects will always depend on how well such programs are implemented and on the relative quality of the next best alternative available to students.”

Importantly, the study highlights that African American students were underrepresented in PPS’ DLI programs and that the district has taken action to promote access to DLI programs in historically African American neighborhoods. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. School in Portland—a predominantly African American and Latinx school—offers a Mandarin language Immersion program. Although this program has been challenging to implement at the King School due to its selection of the Mandarin language, the immersion program at the King School is trailblazing and slowly gaining buy-in from the school community. In a study by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at Oregon State University on PPS’ Mandarin programs, parents at King reported an appreciation for its diverse student population and that their children “love the program.”

Overall, this study highlights that DLI programs in PPS are cost-effective and result in positive academic gains for students. Specifically, the authors note that their findings suggest that it is possible to scale the positive academic impacts of DLI program participation “with modest investments at the central office level, concentrated on supporting high-quality dual language instruction through professional development and curriculum support.”

These resources can help teachers provide effective dual language instruction to impact students’ academic achievement.

This study recognizes the need to continue examining the cost and academic achievement of students enrolled in DLI programs by race/ethnicity in different contexts and settings and to conduct longitudinal studies that explore DLI students’ graduation rates, college enrollment, employment, and non-academic abilities. Hopefully, as more school districts seek to create and implement dual language immersion programs there will be a commensurate increase in research partnerships to help study and document the impacts of these programs.

Related Topics
Dual Language Learners English Learners