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MONTHLY FEATURE

SCHOOL SUCCESSES INSPIRE N.C. PUSH FOR DUAL LANGUAGE

At Collinswood Language Academy, a K-8 dual-language school in a working-class neighborhood in this Southern city, students produced some of the highest math achievement scores in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.

And that's the case even though they learn all their math in Spanish, and take North Carolina's annual end-of-grade math exams in English.

"Taking the tests in English was tricky at first," said Mayra Martinez, an 8th grader who spoke only Spanish when she entered kindergarten at the school. "I remember the word 'subtract' stumping me."

The school's high marks in math—mirrored in reading and science—are coming from every category of student at Collinswood: low-income, English-language learners, Hispanic, African-American, white, and those in special education. They are inspiring a push to create more such programs statewide.

From kindergarten through 8th grade, Collinswood's 750 students—who are a nearly even mix of native Spanish-speakers and native English-speakers—are taught math, social studies, Spanish/language arts, and higher-level language courses in Spanish. Science and English/language arts are taught in English. Physical education is taught in Spanish, and English is the main language of instruction for art and music. Collinswood is a magnet school that admits students from across the southern half of the 144,000-student district through an open lottery system.

"I think it's the cognitive power they build because they have learned to transfer from one language to the next," said Jacqueline Saavedra, a kindergarten teacher at Collinswood, in explaining why the school's students consistently outperform most of their peers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. "It raises their achievement in everything."

Raising achievement across the board—while producing a new generation of bilingual, biliterate students—is at the heart of North Carolina's statewide initiative to replicate the success of Collinswood and dozens of other dual-language immersion programs that have taken root during the last several years. Drawing in part on the language and cultural assets of a large and still-growing Spanish-speaking immigrant population, North Carolina is on the leading edge of a trend of steady growth in dual-language immersion programs in public schools across the nation that has been driven both by strong parental demand and growing recognition among educators of its promise for increasing achievement for English-learners. Roughly 2,500 dual-language programs are operating this school year, according to estimates from national experts.

'Global Education' Push

The state is so serious about it, in fact, that the North Carolina board of education has committed, as part of a larger strategic plan for promoting "global education," to a number of initiatives that will expand and deepen dual-language programs during the next five years. Among those commitments: bringing at least one full dual-language immersion program that spans kindergarten through 12th grade to each of the state's 115 districts, and partnering with colleges and universities to develop the special cadre of bilingual, biliterate educators—including teachers and administrators—that such programs demand.

"The bottom line for us is that all of our subgroups in dual-language immersion are doing well," said Helga Fasciano, special assistant for global education in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. "They all outperform their monolingual peers across the board."

On top of the achievement gains, North Carolina's quest to produce larger numbers of college- and career-ready graduates requires a bigger investment in "global education," Ms. Fasciano said.

"With more graduates who are bilingual, biliterate, and who have deeply studied and gained understanding of other cultures and regions of the world, our communities gain so much from that," she said. "And our students are prepared to go out and find success in such an interconnected world."

READ MORE:

Education Week