Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Kate Menken

Subject Categories



Bilingual Education; Dual Language Bilingual Education; Emergent Bilingual; Non-Latino English-speaker; School Choice


Interest in bilingualism for majority language speakers is an emerging trend in the US. In many parts of the country, English monolingual families are able to place their children in dual language bilingual education ('DLBE') programs in order for them to learn another language. Because of availability and demand, the majority of these programs use Spanish and English in instruction and exist at the elementary school level. Traditionally meant to serve students whose home language is Spanish and whose English skills are emerging, these programs have now become popular among a different population: non-Latinos whose home language is primarily or only English (described in this research as non-Latino English-speakers, or 'NLES'). As a result, the demographics of many DLBE programs are shifting.

This qualitative research study describes reasons NLES families select and remain committed to Spanish/English DLBE programs, as well as factors that lead to program attrition for this population. Data is principally based on in-depth interviews of mothers whose children are in varying phases of participation in a DLBE program, including some whose children have left DLBE programs. The research setting is New York City, and research was conducted among families with children at one of three public schools in the same school district in the borough of Queens. The research sought to understand not only why NLES families might select Spanish/English DLBE programs for their children, but also what influences their commitment to these programs in the long term.

Findings from this dissertation research are timely given the new school chancellor's focus on the expansion of bilingual education programs in New York State as well as a well-documented uptick in interest in bilingual education among English monolinguals. The families interviewed in the current study considered learning Spanish, receiving academic enrichment, and staying in local public schools among their primary motivating factors for enrolling their children in DLBE programs. The families most likely to have children who left DLBE programs were those whose children had insufficient academic support (particularly with second language development), or who were given a different academic opportunity. Those whose children were most successful in DLBE programs were the families who had some connection to Spanish and the ability or willingness to support the language at home.

What these findings indicate is that while interest in bilingual programs among NLES families is increasing, interest is not enough: these families must commit to them long term in order for their children to become bilingual and the programs to remain sustainable. Notwithstanding, I believe that the choices of families like those who participated in this study are indicative of a broader national trend. How schools harness the energy of this new interest and work to retain NLES families while still meeting the needs of the emergent bilingual population these programs have long served will affect the sustainability of DLBE programs. Schools that can effectively integrate and educate both populations equitably could transform traditional language education in the US.

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