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Dual Language Immersion Schools in D.C. Are More Diverse, But Have Fewer At-Risk Students

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

The DC Immersion Project and University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center are members of JNCL-NCLIS.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a study of the demographics of Washington, D.C.’s public schools between 2010 and 2016, researchers found that racial/ethnic diversity - the distribution of students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds - in schools that offered dual language immersion programs exceeded that of schools that did not offer such programs, on average.

“Equity of access matters because research consistently shows that students in DLI are ahead of their peers and are better prepared to compete in the workforce.”

The study, conducted by DC Language Immersion Project (DC Immersion) and the University of Maryland’s National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), analyzed the demographics of kindergarten populations at 149 Washington, D.C. elementary schools between the 2010-2011 and 2015-2016 school years. These schools included 9 elementary schools that offer a dual language immersion (DLI) program where students are taught in a language other than English for at least 50% of instructional time and 140 elementary schools that did not offer a DLI program. DLI schools in the study offered programs primarily in Spanish but also in French, Hebrew and Mandarin, and included three traditional public schools (DC Public Schools) and 6 public charter schools.

The study highlights three main findings:

  1. First, researchers found that DLI schools were racially/ethnically more diverse (had a distribution of racial/ethnic groups that on average more closely mirrored the distribution of racial/ethnic groups across the District) than non DLI schools located in the same wards of the city, regardless of sector (traditional or charter). DLI schools had smaller proportions of Black students and larger proportions of Hispanic students, on average, than non-DLI schools, probably due in part to the locations of the schools and their different degrees of accessibility for different groups of students. DLI schools and non-DLI schools had similar proportions of White and Asian students.

  2. Second, in socioeconomic terms, DLI schools differed significantly from non-DLI schools; on average, DLI schools were expected to have about 21% fewer at-risk students than non-DLI schools regardless of sector. The study found that the wards the schools are in accounted for a large proportion of the difference. For example, none of the DLI schools studied were located in Wards 7 or 8, which have the highest percentages of at-risk students. The authors highlight this as an area of concern and provide policy recommendations to give at-risk students increased access to DLI programs.  “Equity of access matters because research consistently shows that students in DLI are ahead of their peers and are better prepared to compete in the workforce,” says Vanessa Bertelli, executive director of the DC Language Immersion Project. “The District has an opportunity to use high-in-demand DLI programs which are in low supply as a tool to integrate schools while ensuring our most vulnerable students can benefit from these opportunity-boosting programs.”

  3. Third, racial/ethnic proportions in DLI and non-DLI schools over the years of the study changed in the same directions (decreases in proportions of Black and Hispanic students and an increase in proportion of White students), though differences in the rates of change of less than 2% were found between DLI and non-DLI schools.

“Recent press and discussions on demographics and equity in DLI programs have relied on different degrees of empirical and anecdotal evidence and, in some cases, on data from individual schools,” said Rebecca Damari, director of research at the National Foreign Language Center. “By directly comparing the demographics of DLI schools to other schools in the District in aggregate for the first time, we hope to provide an empirical foundation for more substantive discussions on DLI schools.

More information about the study and its recommendations can be found at


About DC Language Immersion Project

We engage families, support educators, research best practices and advocate for a systemic approach to equitably increasing opportunity and strengthening community through multilingual education. Learn more at

About University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center

For more than three decades, NFLC has focused on our mission of helping people understand each other and the world around them, through partnerships with educational institutions and organizations, government agencies, scholars and policy makers. Learn more at

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