Councilmember's Corner: Expanding dual language immersion for all DC students

Councilmember Todd meets with parents and students at Powell Elementary,
a Spanish-language elementary immersion program in Petworth.

by Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd

All across Ward 4, from Petworth to Shepherd Park, from Chevy Chase to Riggs Park, parents tell me that they want expanded dual language immersion education options for their children. After visiting every Ward 4 school and engaging with parents, educators, and administrators, I consistently hear from families who are frustrated by long wait lists and are unable to get their children enrolled in these highly sought-after multilingual programs.

That is why earlier this month, I introduced legislation that would add eight new dual language immersion programs in DC public schools – one in each Ward. Parents would be able to choose from these programs in the December 2019 My School DC Lottery for the 2020-2021 school year. The Dual Language Immersion Accelerator Program Amendment Act of 2019 also requires the creation of a world language immersion roadmap to triple the number of dual language immersion program seats by 2025. This is an ambitious goal, but one that I believe we can and must achieve.

Multilingual education is proven to boost cultural competency, reading, writing, and cognition. Dual language immersion also provides our young people with the skills they need to prosper in a globalized economy, which demands more multilingual and cross-cultural capabilities to compete in the international marketplace.

 And yet many District students still lack sufficient and equitable access to multilingual education. Only two programs exist East of the River. Waitlist data from 2017/2018 show there are 1,000 children on the waitlist for every dual language charter school. More than 10 children are on a waitlist for every available spot in a DCPS or charter dual language program. We can and must do more for our students seeking to broaden their horizons and expand their opportunities.

Councilmember Todd cuts the ribbon on DC International School,
one of Ward 4’s newest dual language programs, located on the Walter Reed Campus.

The District must make the pie bigger – both geographically, in each Ward, and in terms of programs, by adding new languages. All students should have access to the multifaceted benefits of dual immersion education, regardless of race, national origin, socio-economic level, or zip code.  

My two-pronged approach will immediately increase the number of seats available using existing DCPS funds, while also starting a District-wide conversation about how to chart out the broader expansion of what must be seen as a mission-critical component of our public education and workforce development program.    

If you share my focus on expanding dual language immersion in the District, I invite you to join me at the DC Language Immersion Project’s Multilingual Education Fair this Saturday, January 26th from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at Gallaudet University.

I look forward to continuing the conversation as this bill moves through the legislative process, and thank the many parents, educators, and advocates who have worked with me to craft this proposal.

See all of Brandon Todd's posts on the Councilmember's Corner: