Report Bilingual classes better than
Ventura County Star
January 24, 2004
Calling for an end to hostile debates on
teaching limited-English students, a new report finds bilingual education
programs produce higher levels of reading achievement than English-only
The analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the Success for
All Foundation reported on studies conducted over 30 years. It found that:
Of 17 studies on reading in the elementary grades, most showed that bilingual
programs positively affected reading performance.
In no case did an English-only strategy exceed that of a bilingual strategy but
in some cases the two strategies were equally effective.
Many effective programs used a quick transition from the primary language into
reading English or taught reading in both languages. That contrasts with the
classic bilingual approach in which students do not begin reading in English
until third grade or later.
Instructional programs that teach reading using step-by-step phonics and
tutoring were effective.
Educators in Ventura County said Friday they were not surprised by results
supporting bilingual education.
"Over time, that has been our deduction," said Sergio Robles, who oversees
English-learner programs in the Hueneme School District. "That's why we've
Typically in Ventura County, bilingual programs call for students to learn
academic subjects in their primary language in kindergarten through second
grade, while they are learning to speak and understand English. By third grade
they are supposed to begin reading and writing English. They move into regular
classrooms in fourth or fifth grades, educators said.
But voters in California and other states have passed initiatives curtailing
bilingual education, as opponents complained of low achievement and segregation
from English-speaking classmates. Some parents complained that their children
were consigned to bilingual education for years and that they could not get them
out of the classes.
By passing Proposition 227 in 1998, California voters required that children be
taught overwhelmingly in English unless their parents exempted them.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of children statewide have been added to
English immersion programs. About 90 percent of limited-English schoolchildren
in California are being taught in English-only programs now compared with 70
percent before the proposition passed.
Test scores have risen for limited-English students in both types of instruction
since the proposition passed, but there still is a large gap between their
performance and that of children whose primary language is English.
More research recommended
Co-authors Robert Slavin, a Johns Hopkins research scientist, and senior
researcher Alan Cheung of the Success for All Foundation -- the Baltimore
foundation develops programs for disadvantaged students -- said more
high-quality research is needed.
The report, for example, does not address in detail the experience and expertise
That's the issue for the Fillmore Unified School District, which moved away from
bilingual education to English immersion classes before Proposition 227 passed.
The district simply could not find enough qualified bilingual teachers,
Assistant Superintendent Martha Tureen said.
Tureen said the district chose instead to make sure teachers have received
special training to educate Spanish-speaking children in English.
"I believe a high-quality program in English instruction is better than a
poor-quality primary language program," she said.
One of the lingering issues in the bilingual education debate has been the
length of time students need to stay in a bilingual program. In a surprising
finding, Slavin and Cheung said, many successful bilingual programs taught
students to read both the child's primary language and English right away,
rather than waiting a few years to teach English reading. Some programs offer
students English reading after a year, not the three or four typical in Ventura
The Moorpark Unified School District began using a similar approach last year.
Children now begin reading English in second grade, instead of waiting until
third or later.
Administrator Marilyn Green said the district took the step to ensure that
schools meet demands of the federal accountability system outlined in the No
Child Left Behind Act and because achievement tests are given in English.
Another reason is the structure of Moorpark's elementary schools. Some campuses
offer only the first few grades, so students still reading in Spanish would lead
to low scores for those schools.
Some educators say the best approach is to teach children both languages.
University Preparation School, a charter school affiliated with California State
University, Channel Islands, offers a dual immersion program in which many
children are taught half the day in English and the other half in Spanish.
"We chose to have a dual language program because we feel biliteracy and
multiculturalism (are) just the key to the way our society's developing," said
Principal Linda Ngarupe. "We based that on all the research showing that as
children are learning a second language, it helps them academically,
emotionally, socially, in all other areas of their lives. It develops their
report "Effective Reading Programs for English Language Learners: A