Because of the flexibility of charter schools, opportunities exist to implement a well-resourced, high quality bilingual education model that is effective without the bureaucratic constraints or limitations that can result in diluted and less-effective renditions of the model.
By promoting academic success through innovative language and cultural methods in a flexible and accountable structure, bilingual programs in charter Educational institutions can have the potential to advance the academic attainment of students when properly resourced and implemented. Below are descriptions of two schools implementing bilingual education models, profiling each school’s philosophy and instructional plan for promoting both academic achievement and bilingualism.
The District of Columbia Bilingual Public Charter School (DC Bilingual) is located in Washington, D.C., and enrolls students from pre-K to Grade 2. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2005-2006 school year, 75% of the students were of Hispanic descent. As mentioned on their Web site, DC Bilingual first opened its doors in September 2004 and shares a similar philosophy of a parent organization named Centro Nía. The initial enrollment consisted of 122 students in early pre-K through kindergarten.
The mission of DC Bilingual involves the implementation of a dual language program, with the goal of promoting bilingualism and biliteracy skills. DC Bilingual’s philosophy of learning conceptualizes it as a process that focuses on students’ interaction with their peers, teachers, school staff, and home community. The school’s curriculum model promotes the use of English and Spanish during instruction throughout the school day.
Students are grouped according to their dominant languages for literacy instruction, but mixed grouping occurs during other school subjects (e.g., math, science, social studies), as reported on the school’s Web site. El Sol Santa Ana Science and Arts Academy Charter School is located in Santa Ana, California, and is part of the Santa Ana Unified School District. It enrolled students from kindergarten through sixth grade in 2005 and expanded to eighth grade in 2007.
According to the California Department of Education, 93.8% of the school’s total student population was Hispanic in the 2005-2006 school year. As of 2007, the school had been in operation for 5 years, and the charter was renewed for an additional 5 years, as reported in a message from the principal, Diana Clearwater. El Sol emphasizes and implements a dual-language immersion program in Spanish and English. As noted on its Web page, El Sol’s mission involves the preparation of students for high school and higher-education entrance and the promotion of a culture of kindness, creativity, courage, and honesty. Involvement of parents and the community is embraced at this institution.
In addition, the school values the multicultural heritage its students bring and encourages those skills important for a “global citizenship.” Values promoted at El Sol include ethics, integrity, social responsibility, and positive identity, as described in the school’s Web site. Its educational focus prepares students to enter high school with competent literacy and math and science skills, including abilities in the arts as well.
The two schools described above are exemplary models of early-design bilingual charter schools. These schools adhere closely to the program quality criteria for high-quality bilingual schools. They demonstrate that given the autonomy allowed in the charter schools system, support and maintenance of bilingual instruction through charter schools may be a viable option for culturally and linguistically diverse student populations and communities.