Hispanic students are one of the largest and fastest growing minority groups in the United States. According to Fry and Passel (2009), Hispanics now make up twenty-two percent of all children under the age of eighteen in the United States. This number is up from nine percent in 1980. Hispanic students have one of the highest high school dropout rates nationally. The U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences depicted a disturbing status dropout rate for Hispanic students when compared to other groups (Fry and Passel, 2009). The status dropout rate is the percentage of high school dropouts among persons sixteen through twenty-four years old. In 2007, the status dropout rate for Hispanics was 21.4%. This contrasted dramatically with 8.4% for Black students and 5.3% for White students.
One of the reasons Hispanic students drop out of school at a higher rate than any other group is that they "feel marginalized, their parents feel ignored, and many immigrant students never become an integral part of the schools they attend" (Quinn, 2001, p. 45). Simoes, (1976), notes that when these students only use their first language to speak and are not taught to read or write in their primary language at school, many experts believe that students receive the message that their language is inferior and, therefore, so are the family members who speak the home language. "The messages students receive can influence their feelings about school as well as their feelings about themselves in relation to school" (Samway & McKeon, 2007, p.13). When students' feelings of self worth and self-esteem are lowered, learning is hindered.
One solution for this educational epidemic is bilingual education. Bilingual education is the use of two languages for instruction in school. An enrichment form of bilingual education is two-way dual language education; these terms are often used interchangeably in the literature. Evidence has shown that bilingual education can actually result in lower dropout rates for Hispanic students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). One study compared dropout rates for students who had one or more years of bilingual education to a similar group which had not had bilingual education. "The bilingually educated group of students had a significantly lower dropout rate" (Samway & McKeon, 2007, p.15).
Much of the research supporting bilingual education comes from the work of a highly respected theorist and scholar, Jim Cummins. Cummins (2000) contends that "bilingualism is associated with enhanced linguistic, cognitive and academic development when both languages are encouraged to develop" (p.6). He claims "interactions between educators and students represent the direct determinant of bilingual students' success or failure in school" (p.6).
Cummins points out that every educator knows to build on the experiences and knowledge that children bring to the classroom and to promote children's abilities and talents. "Whether we do it intentionally or inadvertently, when we destroy children's language and rupture their relationship with parents and grandparents, we are contradicting the very essence of education" (Cummins, n.d., para. 6). The loss of a student's first language can create an emotional chasm between parents and children. This causes students to feel alienated both at home and at school. Cummins believes that "to reject a child's language in the school is to reject the child (Cummins, n.d., para. 19).
Cummins' (2000) major research and studies on bilingual students have shown the positive effects of additive bilingualism. "The term "additive bilingualism" refers to the form of bilingualism that results when students add a second language to their intellectual tool-kit while continuing to develop conceptually and academically in their first language" (p. 37). From the research he gathered, "The linguistic and academic benefits of additive bilingualism for individual students provide an additional reason to support student in maintaining their L1 while they are acquiring English" (p. 38).
Dr. Stephen Krashen, of the School of Education at the University of Southern California, developed an overall theory of second language acquisition known as the monitor mode. (Krashen, 1997). The core of this theory is the distinction between acquisition and learning; acquisition being a subconscious process occurring in authentic communicative situations and learning being the conscious process of knowing about a language. The monitor model also includes the natural order hypothesis, the input hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, and the affective filter hypothesis. Together, these five hypotheses provide a structure for, and an understanding of how to best design and implement, educational programs for language-minority students. Krashen (1997) put his theory into practice with the creation of the natural approach and the gradual exit model, which are based on a second tenet of bilingual education: the concept of comprehensible input. In other words, language teaching must be designed so that language can be acquired easily, and this is done by using delivery methods and levels of language that can be understood by the student. According to Krashen (1997):
When schools provide children quality education in their primary language, they give them two things: knowledge and literacy. The knowledge that children get through their
first language helps make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. Literacy
developed in the primary language transfers to the second language (par.2).
Pease-Alvarez et al. (1991) completed a qualitative case study about two primary bilingual teachers who worked with ELL students. Their problem was to identify effective programs and teachers serving ELLs. They used observations and interviews to collect data regarding their problem. A Spanish and English dual language school located in California was the setting for this study. The two teachers observed and interviewed believed "strongly that classroom practices that reflect the cultural and linguistic background of minority students are important ways of enhancing student self-esteem" (p.353). These teachers felt that "being bilingual and bicultural will enrich their students' lives" (p.354).
When a student's home language and culture are sustained in the educational process they will thrive. There are those who believe that speaking another language is a deficit. On the contrary, it is a beneficial resource. Language is easy to learn when it is sensible, relevant, interesting, belongs to the learner, and is presented to the student through choices. Language becomes hard to learn when it is artificial, dull, broken into pieces, belongs to someone else, and is out of context. A qualitative ethnographic study of Gregorio Luperon, a bilingual high school, in New York City was conducted (Michael et al., 2007). The study took three years of research consisting of focus groups, observations, and interviews. The researchers also initiated a formal, four-year longitudinal study of the educational trajectories of students at the school. The school's population averaged four hundred students, the majority of whom were Dominican. The students came from families with high rates of poverty and low levels of education. The researchers found that the school had an optimistic atmosphere in which students were happy, respectful, and engaged. Spanish was granted a high status creating a culture in the school where Spanish language was seen as a resource and not a problem as in many other schools. The equalization of English and Spanish at the school led to positive attitudes towards both languages. Teachers demonstrated authentic caring towards their students in this school that led to strong relationships between students and teachers. A state assessment in 2004-2005 comparing Luperon to similar schools showed Luperon performed better on measures of attendance, dropouts, and college entrance.
There are brain benefits due to bilingualism. In comparison to monolingual speakers, bilingual speakers are better able to deal with distractions. In studies conducted in Canada, India, and Hong Kong, psychologists determined that individuals who spoke two languages with equal proficiency and used both equally did better than monolingual volunteers on tests that measured how fast they could complete a task while being diverted (Vedantam, 2004). "The bilingual advantage was greater for older participants," the researchers wrote in the journal Psychology and Aging, adding that 'bilingualism appears to offset age-related looses" in certain mental processes (Vedantam, 2004, p.1).
A team that conducted the Simon test, which is an assessment tool that measures the mental abilities that are known to decline with age, was led by Ellen Bialystok at York University. They made two hypotheses, "one being that the ability to grasp two languages in the mind simultaneously without allowing language switches from one to another, might account for the greater control needed to perform well on the test. The second hypothesis is that bilinguals have superior working memories for storing and processing information" (Vedantam, 2004).
Collier and Thomas (2004) found that enrichment dual language schooling was the only way for English Language Learners to fully close the achievement gap in L2 (second language) and in L1 (primary language). Remedial models only partially closed the gap. Collier and Thomas (2004) classified remedial programs as intensive English classes, ESL pullout, ESL, content/sheltered instruction, structured English immersion, and transitional bilingual education. They classified dual language enrichment models as the one-way and two-way enrichment bilingual programs. They defined one-way programs as demographic contexts where only one language group was being schooled through their two languages. Two-way programs, on the other hand, "have the demographics to invite native English speaking students to join their bilingual and ELL peers in an integrated bilingual classroom" (Collier & Thomas, 2004, p.2).
DeJesus (2008) used data from a seven year case study of a public school in Puerto Rico to show the impact of dual language instruction on student achievement. The dual language school used a fifty-fifty model. The school had five hundred and fifty students, one-third of whom were ELLs. In 2001-2002, students were tested using the statewide achievement test. Results from the tests showed that the students who had been in the dual language program for four or five years surpassed the English-dominant mainstream students and bilingual students in the school. The achievement gap between ELLs and their English peers was eliminated on the school level by thirty three percent, a statistically significant difference. When dual language students were tested again in the 2002-2003 (year five of the dual language program) they scored better than their peers by almost twenty percent. High results continued the following years. After seven years of program implementation, the assessment data showed a constant pattern of student success. These were extraordinary results for a school where ninety eight percent of the students were receiving free or reduced lunch. This is just another example of how well English dominant and English Language Learners performed when given the opportunity of dual language instruction.
In another case study, Quintanar-Sarallena (2004) studied Monteverde K-8 School, a two-way bilingual immersion program in northern California. She analyzed the effects of the program on students' academic achievement using research showing indicators of effective two-way bilingual immersion programs. Monteverde was founded in 1986 with Kindergarten and first grade classes and added one grade level per year until it covered K-8. The school's total enrollment was about five hundred and twenty students. Sixty eight percent of the students were Hispanic, twenty nine percent were White, and three percent were of other ethnicities; forty percent of the students were native Spanish speakers, while sixty percent were native English speakers. "On completion of the elementary years, the students speak, read, and wrote fluently in both English and Spanish" (Quintanar-Sarallena, 2004, p.88). Quintanar-Sarallena (2004) used a variety of indicators from different researchers to analyze Monteverde's Two-Way Bilingual Immersion program, including-duration of the instructional treatment, focus on academic curriculum, optimal language input and output, separation of languages for instruction, ration of English to non-English language use, high additive bilingual environment, a positive school environment, classroom composition (the best ratio is for a student ratio of fifty percent Spanish speakers and fifty percent English speakers), positive interdependence and reciprocal interactive instructional climate, high-quality instructional personnel, and home-school collaboration. The researcher found Monteverde to have all of the above characteristics making it a successful two-way bilingual immersion program.
The world is moving towards multiculturalism and globalization, therefore, there is a great need for interaction with other cultures. Raising bilingual children can enhance tolerance and cultural understanding. Part of the reason why we are having so many issues around the world is because we lack tolerance and understanding of other cultures. Multiculturalism is growing tremendously especially in the U.S. which has always been a country of immigrants. There is no doubt that when we raise children to be bilingual we are probably enhancing their opportunities to become more successful in a constantly changing world.
It is the role of schools to teach skills that will prepare people for life and to encourage them to become productive, lifelong learners. Bilingual education is a means to accomplish this goal. If students are instructed in a language they do not understand, they will fall behind due to their confusion and many never recover. Most educators do their best and try to find someone who speaks their native language to aid in their educational success and communicate with their parents. Bilingual education is a means that meets the immigrant children's needs. As educators, we know there are many tools that can be implemented to provide success for all students. George Mason, University and the National Research Council, indicates that bilingual education works. A study by the Los Angeles Unified School District proved that students in bilingual education programs did better in reading and writing than those who were taught in English from the beginning (Maceri, 1999).
It is evident that there is a need for learning or maintaining Spanish. Hispanics are the largest minority race in the United States. One in seven people is of Hispanic culture in the United States (www.hispanic-culture-online.com). The United States has the fifth largest Hispanic culture in the world. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world. Twenty countries speak Spanish as their first language. The U.S. is one of the few countries where the norm is to be monolingual. In the majority of countries, natives learn a minimum of two languages. In order to assist these students to become productive, viable citizens, research has shown in the Ramirez report that Hispanic students have success in school who were taught in their native language (L1), learned mathematics, English language (L2) and English reading skills as fast or faster than the norming population used in the study (Cummins & Genzuk, 1991).
A study conducted by Peal and Lambert in 1962 (as cited in www.hispanic-culture-online.com) indicated that bilingual children have a cognitive edge as it is reflected on higher levels of creativity and higher mental flexibility. They also have higher levels of metalinguistic awareness in comparison to monolingual children. They present fewer problems in becoming literate, have an edge on scoring better on tests, and are more open-minded and appreciate and respect differences.
Dr. Geoffrey S. Koby, associate professor of German Translation at Kent State University was quoted in the article, "Raising a Bilingual Child, Parents Can Teach Their Children a Foreign Language at a Young Age" By Diane Laney Fitzpatrick in 2007: "All human beings are naturally, innately able to learn a foreign language as a child", (as cited in www.hispanic-culture-online.com, p.1). It is easier to learn a new language when you are young. Americans need to be as accepting as Europeans are of other languages and cultures, by embracing and cherishing them. There is a saying in Spanish, "La persona que habla dos idiomas vale por dos." The person who speaks two languages is double the worth.