New Reports: Dual Language Learners in Portland (OR), San Antonio (TX), and Washington (DC)

Nearly one year ago, New America launched its Dual Language Learners National Work Group to provide consistent analysis of policies affecting dual language learners (DLLs). In our inaugural blog post, we argued, “Too often, DLLs’ needs are considered solely as afterthoughts policy discussions.” So, as part of our first year of work, we promised to “spotlight” places where educators are trying “innovative strategies to serve these students better.”

Over the last year, we visited 30 campuses across 11 districts in two states and the District of Columbia. During these visits, we talked to dozens of teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

Today, the DLL National Work Group is proud to publish three reports built from these conversations. The papers explore local efforts to improve how schools support DLLs in San Antonio (TX), Portland (OR), and Washington (DC). In each paper, we trace out the history, design, implementation, and effectiveness of various local reforms before offering concrete lessons for districts pursuing similar strategies.

In all three cases, local leaders are exploring:

  1. Early education investments and reforms that support DLLs’ healthy development from birth through third grade;
  2. Robust family engagement policies that often include “dual-generation” strategies for simultaneously addressing the needs of families and students; and
  3. Rigorous use of data to determine DLLs’ strengths and needs over time.
Read on for short summaries of each of the papers, as well as links to PDF versions of each:

Boomtown Kids: Harnessing Energy and Aligning Resources for Dual Language Learners in San Antonio, Texas, by Conor P. Williams:

San Antonio is awash with reforms related to DLLs. The city recently embarked on a significant expansion of its early education programs through its new PreK4SA program. San Antonio is also implementing federal Promise Neighborhood and Choice Neighborhood grants in its Eastside Promise Neighborhood. However, because the city contains more than a dozen independent school districts, there are considerable coordination and alignment challenges with all of these efforts. Boomtown Kids explores city, district, school, and non-profit efforts to knit these reforms into a comprehensive support system that will improve outcomes for DLLs.

A Voice for All: Oregon’s David Douglas School District Builds a Better PreK–3rd Grade System for Dual Language Learners, by Conor P. Williams and Amaya Garcia:

Portland, Oregon is, by some measures, the fastest gentrifying city in the United States. The resulting increase in housing prices is forcing many new immigrants to concentrate in neighborhoods on the city’s east side, in the city’s David Douglas School District. As a result, there are more than 70 languages spoken across the homes of David Douglas students, and over 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch subsidies from the federal government. Several years ago, district leaders shifted their instructional model for supporting DLLs’ linguistic and academic development. They are also expanding their early education investments and reworking some of their strategies for engaging with multilingual families. Perhaps most importantly, however, David Douglas provides strong implementation supports for all new reforms in the district — especially through their robust language coaching model. A Voice for All tracks the variety of policies that helped make David Douglas one of just eight Oregon districts to meet state and federal expectations for DLLs’ progress and proficiency last year.

Stories from the Nation’s Capital: Building Instructional Programs and Supports for DLLs from PreK–3rd in Washington, DC, by Amaya Garcia and Conor P. Williams:

In education policy circles, Washington, D.C. is well-known for its recent, controversial education reforms. While few of these high-profile battles have been focused on DLLs’ needs, many have touched on key governance and accountability issues that influence how these students are served at school. For instance, the District invests heavily in early education — 69 percent of three-year-olds and 99 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in public pre-K programs. Furthermore, district and charter schools alike have considerable school-level autonomy around the instructional models they use to serve the needs of their DLL students. However, this latitude makes oversight and systemic alignment difficult. Stories from the Nation’s Capital explores how D.C.’s experience with reforms can serve as a trial balloon for how school choice, gentrification, and accountability policies intersect with DLLs’ needs.

This first round of papers covers considerable ground in exploring the different local contexts DLLs regularly face in the United States. San Antonio is a large, urban environment with a DLL population that predominantly speaks Spanish. David Douglas is a small district in a low-density urban environment with a multilingual DLL population. Washington, D.C. is a city with rapidly-shifting demographics, a multilingual DLL population, and a large charter school sector. In other words, these papers only tell the first part of the story: DLLs attend schools in many other settings across the country. The Work Group plans to build on this foundation in the coming years with additional profiles of local efforts to better support DLLs.

--This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, click here, enter your contact information, and select “Education Policy.”"


Conor P. Williams is the founding director of the Dual Language Learner National Work Group at New America. His work addresses policies and practices related to educational equity, dual language learners, and school choice.