Superintendent Speaks on SXSWedu Panel About Benefits, Importance of Dual Language

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz, along with El Paso ISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera and Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, spoke today at SXSWEdu on The Dual-Language Imperative. The panel was moderated by The Hechinger Report Editor in Chief Liz Willen.

Each district has successfully started dual-language programs and said they believe the dual-language model is more successful in the long run compared with a traditional “sheltered” program, where students are separate from their peers who already know English.

“In AISD, we talk about, ‘All Means All,’ so we take into consideration culture,” Cruz said. “It’s a gift if you have a second language. We have to build upon backgrounds and celebrate it.”

Jenkins agreed.

“When it comes to K–12, you have to make an open effort around celebrating diversity,” she said.

Additionally, Cruz emphasized that including families of English Language Learners in the school system is important, such as offering meetings in English and Spanish, allowing parents to ask questions and being included in their child’s learning.

While the program has been successful for non-English speaking students, superintendents said they have found many monolingual families are interested in dual-language programs as well.

“Not only are English-Language Learners getting the benefit of the program, but also monolingual students are seeing great benefits from the language. We’re happily surprised by those who are monolingual interested in going into the program,” said Cabrera.

He said waiting lists into the program can include hundreds of students.

“If you are literate in any second language, it should be celebrated,” Jenkins said. “It’s a real bonus when entering the job market.”

Jenkins said the population of Hispanic students in her district has grown exponentially over the past few years. One struggle has been convincing non-English speaking families that dual language has greater benefits in the long run than traditional sheltered programs.

“We believe dual language is the wave of the future and, by the numbers, it’s good for children,” she said.

One of the obstacles districts have had in implementing the program is professional development, since teachers need more training to teach students whose first language is not English.

Because the programs are young, none of the districts has data on how the program will affect the students in higher education, but each said they plan to expand their program.

Cruz said AISD is expecting to expand dual language to one—possibly two—high schools next school year.