A Voice for All

Oregon's David Douglas School District Builds a Better PreK–3rd Grade System for Dual Language Learners
Policy Paper
Oct. 30, 2015

Early education investments, family engagement efforts and focus on students’ oral language development are building a strong foundation for dual language learners’ (DLLs) success in Portland’s David Douglas School District, says a new report from New America’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group. 

Since 2000, the number of DLLs enrolled in U.S. schools has grown by 18 percent, but many communities have experienced unprecedented growth in DLL enrollment — it grew by 610 percent in South Carolina, 306 percent in Kentucky and 255 percent in Nevada. As these districts grapple with how to best serve these students, they can look to other districts with a long history of educating DLLs for lessons and replicable practices. 

A Voice For All: Oregon’s David Douglas School District Builds a Better PreK–3rd System for Dual Language Learners tracks the variety of policies that helped make Portland’s David Douglas School District one of just eight Oregon districts to meet state and federal expectations for DLLs’ progress and proficiency last year. 

David Douglas schools have substantial linguistic diversity — there are more than 70 languages spoken across the homes of David Douglas students. District leaders recently shifted their instructional model for supporting DLLs’ linguistic and academic development. The new model prioritizes oral language development by giving students time to talk with peers in integrated groups that include students with different language backgrounds. 

"It can be challenging to provide services that meet dual language learners' unique linguistic needs without separating them from their native English-speaking peers,” says Conor P. Williams, director of the DLL National Work Group, “But David Douglas School District educators are successfully integrating these students in ways that support them and enhance instruction for all students." 

In the report, the authors share several lessons for other jurisdictions looking to reform and improve services for their DLLs: 

  • It is not enough to set new priorities for how DLLs will be supported in schools — policy design matters. 
  • It is not enough to design new DLL policies carefully — the implementation of reforms matters. 
  • Expanded access to quality early education across the PreK–3rd grades can help support DLLs’ linguistic and academic development. 
  • Families are a critically important educational resource for DLLs. 
  • A district-wide focus on oral language development helps DLLs progress towards academic English proficiency — and also supports their academic development. 

“David Douglas provides a clear example of what DLLs can achieve if the right services and supports are in place. Their story provides other districts with a replicable model and valuable lessons on how to craft policies with DLLs in mind,” concludes Amaya Garcia, a policy analyst at New America. 

The full report can be accessed here.