Partial view of a dictionary definition of Spanish, with the word Spanish being highlighted in pink

Summer Scholars Team to Study Language Policies for Heritage Spanish Speakers in Iowa


This year's first team of summer scholars in residence will work on their project, "Language Policies and Programs for Heritage Spanish Speakers in Iowa." The team includes David Cassels Johnson, associate professor in multilingual education (UI College of Education); Christine Shea, associate professor in the departments of Spanish and Portugese and Linguistics (UI College of LIberal Arts and Sciences); MA student Diana Camberos in the Department of Spanish and Portugese; and PhD student Melanie Carbine in the Department of Teaching and Learning ((UI College of Education). 

Their exploratory study will investigate programs and policies in place for Heritage Spanish speakers, examining the following questions:

  1. What language policies and programs guide the education of Heritage Spanish speakers in Iowa?
  2. What rationales and ideologies engender the implementation of these policies and programs?

They will focus on school districts with large numbers of Spanish speakers, including West Liberty, West Des Moines, Storm Lake, Sioux City, Denison, Marshalltown and Des Moines, among others. They hope to produce a policy brief for the Iowa Department of Education and Area Education Agencies, and ultimately be published in a journal. 


Educational equity for linguistic minorities is a central concern for educational researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. In this exploratory project, we focus on educational equity for public school students across the state of Iowa who are Spanish heritage language speakers. After European colonization, Midwestern states like Iowa have had relatively little linguistic diversity in their schools; however, in the past 20 years, Iowa has experienced a 300% increase in its population of English language learners (ELLs), many of whom arrive at elementary school speaking another language. Over time, these learners become more proficient in English and transition from the dominant language of their home, or heritage language, to English. Spanish heritage speakers, the focus of this proposal, grew up in a home where Spanish is spoken but received most of their formal education in English. Educators and policymakers in Iowa have struggled to accommodate these students and different programs and policies have been implemented with little consistency or guidance from the Iowa Department of Education. For this exploratory project, we focus on (1) how school districts have structured Spanish language education for Heritage Spanish speakers through language policy and programming, and, (2) the rationales and ideologies engendering these decisions. Results will help reveal how Iowa schools are (or are not) fostering multilingualism and providing equitable instruction for Heritage Spanish speakers.