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Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times: Bilingual Education and Dominican Immigrant Youth in the Heights

reviewed by Lisa M. Dorner & Angela Layton - November 16, 2011

coverTitle: Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times: Bilingual Education and Dominican Immigrant Youth in the Heights
Author(s): Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia Garcia
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville
ISBN: 0826517633, Pages: 304, Year: 2011
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Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times: Bilingual Education and Dominican Immigrant Youth in the Heights by Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia García analyzes the development of Gregorio Luperón High School for Science and Mathematics, part of the Alternative Schools District of New York.  Luperón opened in 1994 as a two-year transitional program for recent immigrant adolescents, mostly from the Dominican Republic, and grew to a four-year high school serving—and successfully graduating—a greater diversity of Latino newcomers 10 years later.  The book has something for everyone.  For immigration scholars, Chapters 2 and 6 provide an overview of transnational movement between the Dominican Republic and New York, especially sketching out youth’s sending and receiving contexts.  For policy analysts, Chapters 3 and 4 demonstrate how multiple layers of federal and local policymaking afford and constrain school development.  For those interested in developing “additive” newcomer high schools, Chapters 5 and 7 highlight how dynamic bilingual and community education is implemented at Luperón.  The book ends with a list of recommendations, bolstered by a range of research from the fields of immigration, bilingualism and language education.

As readers usually do, I reviewed this book thinking about my own circumstances, living and working in the very different immigration context of St. Louis, Missouri.  While only 4-6% of our population is foreign-born, the percentage change in immigration over the past 20 years is substantial, and St. Louis serves a growing number of refugee communities.  Like other “new immigrant gateways” , we have a newcomer school.  Unlike Luperón, however, the St. Louis Public International Welcome School serves children ages 5-18, aims to transition students to all-English classrooms, and integrates immigrants and refugees from all over the world.  At the same time, our city has a network of charter schools—the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools (SLLIS)—that provide a multi-lingual, global education for city children.  Unlike Luperón, the SLLIS network serves students mainly from monolingual, English-speaking homes, with over 50% who identify as African-American.  I wondered: Could Bartlett’s and García’s project focused on a New York newcomer school comprised of mostly Dominican students be applied to these cases?

Indeed, I would argue that many of the book’s findings have implications for contexts widely different from Luperón. Just like Luperón, these unique school spaces in St. Louis employ dynamic views of language, community, and social justice.  One might claim that they are also working to add to schooling while living in subtractive times. It is the multifaceted presentation of context—what Bartlett and García take such care to do—that is critical to readers’ abilities to “take home” such findings.  It is something that policy studies, in particular, need to do more often (Dorner, forthcoming; Honig, 2006).  At the same time, it is this attention to the greater immigration, educational policy, and language contexts that slightly takes away from the authors’ abilities to provide an in-depth picture of how youth, themselves, view their own growth happening within—and beyond—school walls.  In addition, although Bartlett and García provide an overview on research methods (pp. 22-25), more specific information on how they and their colleagues collected and analyzed “multi-methodological” data would be helpful, especially for beginning researchers who desire to develop rich case studies like this one, and to better understand how this research led to the 23 “lessons learned” (Chapter 9).


A major issue facing schools across the country is this: foreign-born students who arrive as teenagers are at higher risk of dropping out of school, not only because of the difficulty of learning academic English and fulfilling graduation requirements within a few short years, but also because of the context of reception, lack of job opportunities, and the difficult social-emotional circumstances that they must endure.  Newcomer schools have been designed to address these issues (Short & Boyson, 2004).  At heart, Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times is an examination of one newcomer school—Luperón—and how stakeholders there responded to the needs of adolescent Dominican immigrants in New York.  In the authors’ own words: “this book considers practices of additive schooling—including dynamic bilingual education with a focus on macroacquisition, as well as culturally relevant pedagogy and a remarkable school culture of opportunity and success—in subtractive times, constituted by opposition to bilingual education, the intensification of educational policies that undermine bilingual approaches and exclude newcomers from attaining diplomas, and track immigrant, working-class students largely into working-poor jobs” (p. 22).

Bartlett’s and García’s work is based on a longitudinal qualitative case study, or specifically, a series of related projects that included a survey (n=50), classroom observations, student workshops, as well as interviews and focus groups with students, teachers, administrators, and parents.  In analyzing their data, the authors apply socio-cultural theories to educational policy (Sutton & Levinson, 2001).  They also draw from anthropological and sociological studies of schooling for immigrant youth (Valenzuela Jr., 1999), cultural ecological theory (inspired by John Ogbu’s work), and segmented assimilation (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001) to examine how the adaptation of ethnic solidarity can help with school success.

Besides describing the context of the study and their theoretical frameworks, the book begins by defining a series of important ideas to which the authors continually refer: emergent bilinguals, dynamic bilingualism, translanguaging, and macroacquisition (p. 3).  Rather than use the terms oft-used by the state, “limited English proficient,” or by academics, “English Language Learners,” Bartlett and García choose emergent bilinguals to signify that at Luperón, students are developing two languages, which intertwine and shape each other.  Dynamic bilingualism, then, is what happens when people rely upon their various languages to communicate and relate to others, or how “students adapt their linguistic resources to make meaning in context-specific communicative situations” (p. 3).  Thus, translanguaging happens at Luperón, as teachers also rely upon bilingual, “fluid language practices” (p. 17) within instruction. Finally, macroacquisition (Brutt-Griffler, 2004) is the process by which a speech community is formed in any particular socio-cultural and historical context.  By highlighting the complexity of language use—its emergent, dynamic, social, and historical nature—the authors move us away from the traditional focus on individual performance and the separation of languages in education.  Instead, we witness the contextual and complex nature of languages, identities and cultures playing out in youths’ lives.


After setting the scene for their work and book, Bartlett and García delve into their presentation.  They start from the big picture—the transnational context of Dominicans and the educational policy context of New York—before analyzing within-school practices as well as youths’ and educators’ perspectives.

Chapter 2 examines the structural context of Dominicans in New York, the poverty, and the push and pull factors of migration between the two places.  Importantly, they analyze what it means to be Dominican in Spanish-speaking New York at this historical moment: Dominicans, who have various residency and immigration statuses, are the second-largest Spanish-speaking group after Puerto Ricans, who are all citizens.  Political power has come differently to the different groups.  Chapter 3 then draws the historical and socio-political context of the area.  It covers “education policy as social context” and provides readers with a greater understanding of the intersections of changing anti-bilingual times, federal accountability mandates, New York state policies, and local policies, including the centralization of schools by the mayor and the restructuring of “small schools” like Luperón.  The take-home messages here include not only that Dominican students live in “subtractive times,” but also that multiple factors including immigration histories, one’s context of reception, and a confluence of local and federal policies undoubtedly shape the creation of schooling and students’ pathways.

Chapter 4 presents the history of Luperón’s development. Bartlett and García paint a picture of how a diverse group of teachers, many of them Dominican immigrants themselves, rejected subtractive education models “to build a dynamic bilingual high school for Latino immigrants during a period of high-stakes testing, increased and diversified immigration, and the assimilation of Dominican families into low-wage work” (p. 69).  These “pioneros” of Luperón strongly believed that students needed rigorous content instruction in English and Spanish (p. 75). In addition, referring back to the idea of macroacquisition, the authors demonstrate how Luperón educators emphasized working with students as an entire community of emergent bilinguals.  In summary, their findings here match other research on “effective” schools, where school personnel and families shared leadership, trusted each other and, in fact, considered each other as “family” (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Dorner, Spillane, & Pustejovsky, 2011).

In Chapter 5 the authors bring us inside classrooms and demonstrate how Luperón’s educational model evolved.  Bartlett and García argue that adolescent immigrant youth have distinct and complex needs in terms of academic language and literacy instruction.  Unlike elementary-aged immigrant students who are taught in more contextualized ways, adolescent newcomers must acquire abstract discipline-specific knowledge and academic discourse in order to understand and subsequently demonstrate understanding in a relatively short period of time.  The authors explain how translanguaging, dynamic bilingualism, and macroacquisition work at Luperón.  For example, because students at Luperón are allowed to take four of the state-required Regents exams in Spanish and also have access to Advanced Placement Spanish language and literature classes, Spanish is not simply used as a transitional scaffold into English; Spanish is a language that contributes to students’ academic success and identity development.  In a science lesson, one teacher takes his students through an English text by providing academically rich and complex vocabulary in both Spanish and English.  He helps students achieve conceptual and linguistic understanding through flexibly moving back and forth between the two languages (translanguaging).  This happens in English classes as well; the teachers developed specific strategies to help their students pass the essay-heavy English Language Arts Regents exam: starting with practices that students recognize, such as writing about personal experiences; providing models of quality essays, focusing on vocabulary and transitional phrases; building familiarity with responding to essay questions; and using translation skills to understand meanings.

Overall, Chapter 5 is exceptionally relevant and important for educators. Instead of dichotomizing students into bounded systems whether linguistic, technological or national, Bartlett and Garcia show us how to draw from students’ cultural and linguistic repertoires to build their academic competence and sustain their transnational identities.  Unfortunately, students’ voices are mostly absent in this section.  While the authors focus on the pedagogical framework of dynamic bilingualism and macroacquisition, readers must implicitly understand how this pedagogy matches the transnational lives of newcomer immigrant youth.

In Chapters 6 and 7, however, readers do hear from Luperón students, as the authors first examine youth’s broader social and cultural development and then their opinions of Luperón itself.  Although Chapter 6 is titled “Challenges Facing Immigrant Youth at Luperón,” it actually describes the challenges students find in their daily lives outside of school.  A major theme is that students feel “tranca’o” or locked up as they are separated from familiar schools, spaces, and their family members.  Space, time, trust, mobility and safety are all issues for them in New York.  Chapter 7 then examines students’ perspectives on their school lives.  The authors “argue that Luperón’s additive approach to schooling helps to foster its students’ social and cultural capital by encouraging the students’ relationships with institutional agents such as teachers and community-based organizations, as well as the building of peer social capital” (p. 191).  What is most interesting in this chapter is how positively students’ answered questions when asked about life and schooling in New York, when their frame of reference or topic of conversation was the school, in contrast to the previous chapter, when the context was the city and general living.  Here, the commonly found “immigrant optimism” comes through, perhaps because of their dual frame of reference (Suárez-Orozco & Suárez0Orozco, 2001) and recognition that schooling opportunities at Luperón went beyond what they had in the DR.

Despite the overarching positive message of the book—that additive schooling can happen even in subtractive times—Chapter 8 presents the challenges facing bilingual immigrant high school graduates from poorly-resourced communities.  In comparison to other New York students, a greater percentage of Luperón students graduate from high school and start college.  However, many do not, and those that do attend college face immense hurdles in remaining there, finishing, and obtaining work that matches their qualifications.  A deeper analysis of the social and structural conditions facing newcomer high school graduates is sorely needed, for without pathways toward respected jobs or realistic college dreams, the fear is that the critical work that schools like Luperón begin may never be fully realized.


The book concludes with a list of 23 lessons learned.  For the lessons that draw directly from the study of political, socio-historical and linguistic contexts—e.g., schools that built on “confianza,” dynamic bilingualism, and additive approaches serve youth well—educators should take heed.  There are others, however, that need further study and careful examination with youth.  For example, there is considerable tension—which the authors acknowledge—in suggesting that (1) schools would do well to develop ethnic solidarity with youth, and (2) they must also consider how to structure “regular, positive opportunities for intercultural exchange with [non-immigrant] American peers” (p. 244).  Such issues are critical to carefully examine, as racism and stereotypes continue to thrive, despite our growing multi-lingual and global society. Nonetheless, the complex, multifaceted analysis of context presented by Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia García make it possible for readers of Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times to “take home” many of their findings, and they should!


Brutt-Griffler, J. (2004). World English: A study of its development. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Bryk, A. S., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New York, NY:

Dorner, L. M. (forthcoming). The life course and sense-making: Immigrant families’ journeys toward understanding educational policies and choosing bilingual programs. American Educational Research Journal.

Dorner, L. M., Spillane, J. P., & Pustejovsky, J. (2011). Organizing for instruction: A comparative study of public, charter, and Catholic schools. Journal of Educational Change, 12(1), 71-98.

Honig, M. I. (Ed.). (2006). New directions in education policy implementation: Confronting complexity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Short, D. J., & Boyson, B. A. (2004). Creating access: Language and academic programs for secondary school newcomers. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems Co., Inc.

Suárez-Orozco, C., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2001). Children of Immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sutton, M., & Levinson, B. (Eds.). (2001). Policy as practice: Toward a comparative sociocultural analysis of educational policy. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing.

Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Waters, M., & Jiménez, T. R. (2005). Assessing immigrant assimilation: New empirical and theoretical challenges. Annual Review of Sociology, 31, 105-125.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 16, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16602, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 12:55:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Lisa Dorner
    University of Missouri - St. Louis
    E-mail Author
    LISA M. DORNER, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her research projects examine immigrant childhoods, language brokering, and educational policy, especially the politics of implementing bilingual programs in new gateway communities. She enjoys applying her research findings and working with immigrant families and new schools in the Midwest. Lisa has published in the American Educational Research Journal, American Journal of Education, Educational Policy, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Journal of Adolescent Research and Journal of Educational Change.
  • Angela Layton
    University of Missouri - St. Louis
    E-mail Author
    ANGELA LAYTON is a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her research interests include language, literacy, immigrant students, and the unique ways that children in language immersion programs interact and create speech communities.
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