Latino Parental Engagement in Oregon Dual Language Schools
by Audrey Lucero and Edward Olivos
In 2014 we received a CLLAS grant to examine the perceptions of Latino parents whose children are enrolled in Spanish-English elementary dual language programs in Oregon. In dual language programs, teachers provide content instruction in both Spanish and English daily, and all children in the program are expected to become bilingual. In recent years, the number of such programs in Oregon has grown, in part due to a grant from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). In 2013, ODE awarded grants to eight schools around the state to implement or expand dual language programs. We wanted to understand parents’ experiences with these programs, as well as expectations for their children’s success in them.
This project was undertaken in concert with the ODE and the Association of Teachers of Dual Language Education (ATDLE). The Oregon English Learners Statewide Strategic Plan also guided it. One of the goals of the strategic plan is to ensure that language minority children have access to quality programs that promote English language development, dual language development, and achievement in core subject areas like reading and math. Therefore, our goal was to understand parent engagement—a very important aspect of school success—in dual language schools. The research question guiding the study was, “What perceptions do Latino parents have about the dual language program in which their children are enrolled?”
In Spring 2014, ODE and ATDLE administered bilingual surveys to parents in grant-receiving schools, asking about perceptions, experiences, and recommendations for dual language education in their child’s school. Based on results from those surveys, we developed a number of focus group questions that go beyond the simple “agree” or “disagree” options on the survey. For example, we wrote a question that said, “Would you recommend this program to other families? If so, why? Please be specific.” [Les recomendaría este programa a otras familias? Si sí, por qué? Sea especifico, por favor.] We used these questions to conduct focus groups with Latino parents in four schools that received ODE grants around the state. Information gathered from these focus groups is intended to be useful to state-level administrators as they continue to develop and implement more dual language programs to meet the needs of Latino students statewide.
We are only in the early stages of data analysis, but already a few key themes have emerged. First, parents are overwhelmingly satisfied with the dual language programs that serve their children. They feel that having access to academic content in both languages helps their children be more engaged and successful in school. Second, parents feel that it is important for all children in their school communities to be bilingual, including English-dominant children. They believe bilingualism is both a cultural and a practical asset. Third, Latino parents whose children are served by these programs feel valued and respected by teachers, administrators, and other parents. They generally reported being active or very active in their children’s schooling, and many felt this would not be possible in a traditional English monolingual school.
As we continue to analyze our focus group data, we will continue to flesh out these themes and also to identify others that may influence the success of dual language programs and ultimately lead to better educational outcomes for Oregon’s Latino population.
—Audrey Lucero, assistant professor of language and literacy education, College of Education. Edward Olivos, associate professor of education studies, College of Education.