Any man who comes here ... must adopt the language which is now the native tongue of our people.... It would not be merely a misfortune, but a crime to perpetuate differences of language in this country (Theodore Roosevelt). Bilingual education has been a controversial topic in the U.S for many years now, and many politicians and education specialists have been debating over this issue. The first law that required schools to teach limited English proficiency (LEP) students in their native language was the 1968 Bilingual Education Act. The decision was based on a 1953 UNSECO study which concluded that LEP students do better in school if they are taught in their native language for a year, before joining the regular classes. However, in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected the government quickly changed its support to English immersion instruction. In 2001, a major change has been made- an Act signed by bush required state and local education agencies to decide on the instruction methods. About five years later, guides issued by the Education Department in 2006 with the goal of providing scientifically based recommendations on instruction methods continued to give schools no advice or guidance on the bilingual or English only debate. This topic is also controversial because it is closely tied with the immigration and immigrant assimilation issues.
Although people usually only use the terms "bilingual education" and "English immersion", there are actually numerous methods included in these general terms. Developmental bilingual education is a method that suggests that LEPs should be taught both English and their native language for 5-7 years. Another method is the transitional method in which the LEPs are taught in their native language for up to 3 years, in all subjects and also learning English "on the side" and are then moved to standard classes. According to a more complicated method, two-way bilingual education, students that speak English and LEPs should be put in one classroom in which they will be taught in both languages, and therefore the students will all become bilingual. Structured immersion is a teaching method in which LEP students are taught subject matter in English. In alternate immersion, also known as sheltered English, LEPs are taught subject that are not very language intensive, such as math, in English and as their English proficiency increases they start learning language intensive subjects in English as well. Sometimes this method includes teaching the same class twice- once in each language.
My thesis is that schools should be required to provide a bilingual education program, rather an English immersion program, in order to minimize the gaps between limited English proficiency students and native English speaking students.
Many researches have been done, and most of them confirm that bilingual programs are more beneficial for most students. The biggest and most cited research was done by Virginia Collier and Wayne P. Thomas of George Mason University. Their research covered 42,000 students in 35 school districts over 13 years. Collier's and Thomas' research examined achievement levels of students through high school, and therefore their research doesn't just show what works in the short term, it also shows what works in the long term. The results of the research were quite intriguing; while the different programs had relatively similar success in the short term, the long term success of the dual language programs was significantly better. The students who participated in the dual language programs were closer to closing the gap between them and native speakers of English, while the students who were in English immersion came in last, and the students who were in transitional bilingual programs were in between. Thomas claims that although English immersion students "look as though they're doing really well in early grades, but they've experienced a cognitive slowdown as they're learning English".
The conclusion of Thomas' and Collier's research was that "The more children develop their first language â€¦, the more successful they will be in academic achievement in English by the end of their school years". They both support the two-way program, and they claim that the program should be 7-10 years long. They even say that students in two-way classes after the fourth grade outperform even the native English speakers in standard classes.
The department of health, education and welfare has conducted its own research in 1977-1978, in which they concluded that bilingual education was not superior over other programs. In a 1981 research by Keith A. Baker and Adriana A. de Kanter of the Department of Education, they also concluded that "no consistent evidence supports [its] effectiveness". Moreover, they argued that "The common-sense observation that children should be taught in a language they understand does not necessarily lead to the conclusion they should be taught in their home language. They can be taught successfully in the second language if the teaching is done right. The key ... seems to be to ensure that the second language and subject matter are taught simultaneously so that subject content never gets ahead of language". On the other hand, a study by Ann C. Willig for her dissertation and the University of Illinois refuted these two researches. She, like many other critics of these researches, believed their methodology was wrong since the beginning because they ignored various factors and variables in the research. In her study, Willig discarded data she thought was methodologically flawed and data of studies outside the United States. She concluded that "bilingual education has been badly served by a predominance of research that ... makes inappropriate comparisons of children who are dissimilar in many crucial respects. In every instance where there did not appear to be crucial inequalities between experimental and comparison groups, children in bilingual
programs averaged higher than the comparison groups on the criterion measures". In 1991, after its own study, the Department of Education supported Willig's conclusions.
Advocates of English immersion think that the only effect bilingual education has is slowing down the LEP students' English learning. "If you don't pull them out [for English instruction], they're not going to learn English fast enough" (Tom orne,Â Arizona Department of EducationÂ Superintendent of Public Instruction). On the other hand, bilingual education supporter Jose A. Ruiz-Escalante argues that "Most districts are still in a hurry for them to learn English; they end up learning English at the expense of an education". Proponents of English immersion also claim that in two states that changed from bilingual to English immersion programs, California and Arizona, studies show that the change has improved academic achievement. Kelly Torrance, a scholar with the Lexington Institute, cited statistics from California showing that the number of LEP students who scored in the top two categories of proficiency on the state's English-language development test went up from 25% in 2001 to 47% in 2005. "This striking improvement is big news," wrote Torrance. Stephen Krashen, a linguistics professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, dismissed these studies. He says the state introduced the English test in 2001, and that improved scores are common for the first years after introduction of a new test. Krashen points to numerous other studies by academics that conclude dropping bilingual education did not increase LEP students' development. Jeff MacSwan, a professor of linguistics at Arizona State University, claims that the state's report "has been completely discredited." MacSwan believes that the comparisons in the study ignored other potential causes of the differences, for example poverty, duration of residence in the United States or initial language proficiency and so on.
This debate over bilingual education is not purely about education; it also has a social aspect. Many people are concerned with the LEP students' assimilation in the U.S, and fear that these special programs for English learning students will cause stereotyping, reduce their self-esteem, and reinforce the difference between native English speakers and them. However, Collier stresses that unlike some bilingual programs, two-way bilingual education do not segregate LEP students from the native English speakers. On the contrary, they encourage students to depend on each other for help, which strengthens respect for each other's culture and language. Maria Estela Brisk, and education professor, believes that "Familiarity with culture not only supports second language learning but enriches factual knowledge and cognitive development". In addition, she claims that "Incorporating in the school curricula aspects of the bilingual students' cultures will by extension improve American students' knowledge of the world in a very tangible manner. People of other cultures approach problem solving, personal interactions, and learning differently. Experiencing and discussing such differences expands American students' perspectives. At a time when technology facilitates contact with people of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds throughout the world, it should be obvious that schools need to prepare all students to communicate and relate in an increasingly interactive world".
In conclusion, schools should be required to adopt a bilingual educational program, as it is the most effective in teaching limited English proficiency students the English language, and also its participants are the most likely out of all LEP students to succeed academically in the future.