Discourse as Destiny in Dual Language Education? A Multi-scalar Ethnography of Language Policy

Principal investigator

Katie Bernstein

Award start date


Award end date


Originating sponsor

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

The challenge

In recent years, TWI programs — two-way, dual-language immersion — have grown exponentially across the U.S.; some with a mission of equity for language minority students, others with the goal of giving all students an edge in a multilingual, global economy. Language scholars celebrate this expansion, but many worry that programs created under this new logic are failing to meet the needs of language minority students, thereby perpetuating inequities. Others argue that the global-economic-advantage argument might serve only as a strategic branding decision and need not drive teaching practice. This project aims to explore whether different school-level program rationales — TWI for equity or TWI for global citizenship and economic advantage — produce different practices, understandings and learning at the classroom level and among students and parents. At this moment of TWI expansion, understanding the consequences of rapid growth through these rationales has the potential to shape the future of bilingual education.

The approach

The project by Assistant Professor Katie Bernstein will be the first phase of a multi-year, multi-scalar ethnography of language policy in TWI classrooms to determine whether and how schools’ framing of the purposes of multilingual education translates into differences in their classrooms. Phase I, funded by a Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College internal research grant, will include identification of 15–20 school sites, all in the same region and each offering bilingual programs. Through critical discourse analyses and keyword analysis of public information, Bernstein will select six schools: three whose official mission aligns most clearly with the equity/social justice framework and three whose mission aligns most clearly with the global citizen/economic framework. Her aim is to secure agreements with the six schools and districts and submit a subsequent proposal to the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship program to fund phases II and III. Phase II will use participant observation, teacher and administrator interviews, intertextual analysis of discourses at each school and interdiscursive comparison across the schools. Phase III will add interviews with children and parents, and assessment of children’s Spanish language knowledge.

Findings and impact

Schools with TWI will be identified between July and August of 2018. Partnerships with the schools will be secured by October in order to meet the November deadline for a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship application. Bernstein expects the final results of the three phases to provide evidence as to whether and how these discourses shape bilingual education practice. These findings will also benefit dual language program development in the Phoenix area through Bernstein’s ongoing work in local school districts. Finally, the study will contribute to the field of language policy and planning through findings about how policies at one scale are interpreted and appropriated by actors at other scales.