English Immersion Claims By Ron Unz Are Very Unscientific

To:          All Journalists
From:      Dr. Michael O. Peralta, Ph.D. Physics (Emphasis in Statistics)
Subject:  English Immersion Claims By Ron Unz Are Very Unscientific
Date:      August 25, 2000

I have been reading the various news articles about the results of California's Prop 227 and I am very disappointed in the gullibility of journalists giving Ron Unz the credibility that he has been and is getting in the media. The English-Immersion claims by Ron Unz are very unscientific.

In the various comparisons that are made between Bilingual Education and English-Only it is absolutely essential that the comparison be done in a valid scientific manner. The tools to do these kinds of comparisons have been known in the statistical field for decades.

Unfortunately, most of the public and I would say most journalists have no or very little understanding of statistics and controlled scientific study methods. If they did they would realize the kinds of unscientific games that Unz is playing with test scores.

Since about 1997, Ron Unz, the author of Proposition 227, has been claiming that the English-Only method is better than the Bilingual Education approach for teaching Limited English Proficient (LEP) students.

For some reason or other many of the journalists listening to Unz have been "bewitched" by the flashy data portrayals distributed by Ron Unz. Many of the journalists seem to believe Ron Unz over and above the experts in the field of Second Language Acquisition.

It's all right for Ron Unz to have his own opinion. But with all due respect, since he is a non-expert and either uninformed or unwilling to use scientific comparison methodology, I really believe parents, journalists, educators, and voters should not be giving Ron Unz' opinion the weight that he has been getting from the media. Ron Unz is a bright person but he refuses to approach the issue in a scientific manner. Ron is capable of learning and using scientific methods to draw conclusions about this issue. But, for whatever reason, he has chosen to take the political approach instead of the scientific approach regarding the issue of Bilingual Education.

The main point here is that, Ron Unz (and other non-experts) have been comparing Bilingual vs. English-Immersion test scores in improper ways -- in unscientific ways. Unz has been doing the comparisons based on intuitive observations and not by controlled scientific studies.

To illustrate how easily it is to make invalid conclusions about data between two groups consider the difference in the following two sets of scores:

Group A Scores: 2, 3, 5, 4, 1, 2 Average = 2.83

Group B Scores: 4, 3, 5, 6, 1, 5 Average = 4.00

Human intuition would suggest that Group B definitely has higher scores. However, these two sets of data are NOT statistically different. Group A came from 6 rolls of a dice. Group B came from the next 6 rolls of the SAME dice.

This example is very simple, since it involved the same dice, and the same conditions when rolling the dice. In more typical situations we are trying to compare drug treatments, or educational approaches, etc. where other factors can complicate things and influence the results.

For example we all know that three influential factors in heart attacks are: (1) High Fat Intake, (2) Lack of Exercise, (3) Hereditary History. We are all aware of these factors because Medical Science has revealed this to us. However, there was a case a few years back of a famous exercise advocate that was well known for his much running and good physical fitness. He even wrote a best-selling book on the subject. However, he died of a heart attack. Does this invalidate the medical results found in the past? Of course not. Overall -- all other factors being equal -- exercise is beneficial for preventing heart attacks. The runner was one case of thousands and in his case it was the hereditary history of the runner that was the overwhelming factor for that person.

I hope I haven't lost you in all this explanation. As humans we like the flashy and quick "bottom line" to the issue. But unfortunately comparing methods with "quick intuitive" approaches is extremely error-prone. However, boring it may seem, decisions should be made based on good science -- not on flashy intuitive human observations.

I am truly amazed that the issue of whether Bilingual Education works better than the English-Only approach has been taken out of the scientific arena and into the political arena.

For example, when Ron Unz -- a non-expert in the field of Second Language Acquisition -- distributes his observations to journalists, the journalists seem to give more favorable coverage to Ron Unz rather than experts such as Dr. Stephen Krashen and Dr. Kenji Hakuta -- who are world renown experts in Second Language Acquisition.

It seems crazy that journalists title their articles based on Unz' claims rather than the claims of language experts. It is absurd that even equal preference or coverage is given to a non-expert. It is equivalent to needing a medical operation and giving EQUAL weight to the opinion or skill of:

(1) Someone who is NOT a medical doctor and has never studied medicine, to that of

(2) Someone who IS a medical doctor and has experience in the relevant medical procedures.

It should be very obvious that the opinion of the medical doctor should be believed much more strongly than the non-expert -- especially when the expert relies on sound scientific procedures.

With this in mind, the analysis and assessments of Dr. Kenji Hakuta and Dr. Stephen Krashen who are world renown experts in the field of Second Language Acquisition, are attached. Dr. Kenji Hakuta's comments on Prop 227 and Stanford 9 Reading Scores is at http://www.stanford.edu/~hakuta/SAT9/SAT9_2000/bullets.htm. The excerpt from Dr. Stephen Krashen is at http://www.alec2000.org/ninety.htm

Dr. Michael O. Peralta, Ph.D. Physics (Emphasis in Statistics)
Tucson, AZ



Points on SAT-9 Performance and Proposition 227

by Dr. Kenji Hakuta

August 22, 2000

Recent media coverage, in particular an article in the New York Times (August 20, 2000), has occasioned a cascade of media calls to my office. Here are a set of points I have tried to make to the reporters. These points are based on the analysis I have conducted of SAT-9 scores with Evelyn Orr, Yuko Goto Butler and Michele Bousquet ( this analysis is at

http://www.stanford.edu/~hakuta/SAT9/SAT9_2000/analysis2000.htm ), as well as on my own experiences as a researcher in the education of language minority students.

1. Any given school district's pattern of performance by LEP students should be considered in light of statewide patterns of performance by LEP and by native English speakers; our analysis shows that there have been statewide increases in SAT-9 scores for both LEP and native English speakers, following patterns that are virtually identical -- large increases in the early grades, and then tapering off in the fourth grade and beyond. This is not a Proposition 227 effect, but something much more specific to SAT-9.

2. The increases are due to a number of possible causes. Advocates of reforms such as Proposition 227, class size reduction, and increased school accountability would certainly like to give credit to their own individual causes, but there are other explanations that must also be considered. For example, schools and districts have taken the SAT-9 much more seriously this past year, and have taught to the test. Younger children's scores are probably more likely to benefit from increased attention by teachers and school officials to the importance of the test. Also, districts seem to vary considerably in who they included as LEP or as non-LEP, and in percentages of the LEP students that they tested. Of course, the results of a school or district's LEP students would depend a great deal on who they count as LEP and which LEP students were tested. Each claim about "success" for LEP students would need to be scrutinized. It is certainly premature to claim any sort of victory for Proposition 227.

3. SAT-9 is a poor excuse of a measure of English development and academic achievement for LEP students. The test was developed to give normative data in reading and math for native English speakers. The test measures things that are qualitatively different from what would be expected of students learning English. Consider an analogy. Imagine if you had just finished a first set of golf lessons in a driving range, and then you were taken out to a golf course, asked to play a full 18 holes, and kept score. Unless you were a prodigy, your score would be virtually meaningless, measuring luck much more than it would your ability. The golf score is very meaningful for those who have played for a while (Tiger Woods), but not for beginners (being one, I can testify that I never keep score -- I keep score in a different way, which is the percentage of solid contacts I make per swing). Given that SAT-9 is a weak measure of English for LEP students, we can only expect it to tell us very gross information. It is certainly not refined enough to tell us about differences between program labels, such as bilingual vs. English immersion. (Would I really be able to tell the difference between the effectiveness of different golf instructional approaches based on golf scores for beginners?).

4. The data from 1998 to 2000 show that all districts show rises, pretty much following statewide patterns. There are increases in school districts that have retained bilingual education, in school districts that had English immersion even before Proposition 227 (and therefore were not impacted by the policy), and in Oceanside, which has been acknowledged by the press for having switched faithfully from bilingual to English-only. Because SAT-9 is a bad measure for LEP students (golf scores), the scores for schools and districts are characterized by a lot of random noise, but they did rise in a rough way. That is, all the scores are rising, but the margins of errors are so large that it is not possible to distinguish between different types of language programs.

5. Why did Oceanside LEP students show such big gains from 1998 to 2000? Partly, one has to wonder how it managed to be so low in 1998 -- the average LEP 2nd grader at the 12th percentile (compared to LEP at the 19th percentile statewide), and the average 3rd grader at the 9th percentile (compared to 14th percentile statewide). So, they started out among the lowest in a group of students who score low to begin with. One of the laws of statistics is that the lower the beginning score, the more it will be expected to rise upon retesting.


The Only Way to Determine the Effect of Bilingual Education Is By Controlled Scientific Studies

by Dr. Stephen Krashen

Professor of Education

University of Southern California

August 22, 2000


Jacques Steinberg (August 20, 2000) states that the increase in California's SAT9 test scores suggests that Proposition 227, which eliminated bilingual education, was a success.

Using SAT 9 scores [in this way] to evaluate bilingual education is bad science. As Steinberg notes, it is not clear that dropping bilingual education was responsible for these gains, because other changes may also have occurred. Obvious changes include increased test preparation and reduction in class sizes in the lower grades. A less obvious factor is selective testing. A recent article by Nanette Asimov in the San Francisco Chronicle documented several cases in the Bay Area in which increases in test scores coincided with clear decreases in the number of students tested.

The only way to really determine the effect of bilingual education on English language development is to examine the results of controlled scientific studies. In these studies, groups are compared that differ only with respect to the use of the first language. This research consistently shows that children in properly organized bilingual education programs acquire English at least as well and usually better than children in all-English programs. In addition, students in bilingual programs drop out less.

[ The following is taken from http://www.alec2000.org/ninety.htm ]


1. What does the research say about the effectiveness of bilingual education?

When well-designed bilingual programs are compared to all-second language alternatives, children in bilingual programs acquire the second language as well or better. Also, when socio-economic status (poverty) is controlled, children with some education in the host country do better than those who received all their education in the US (natural experiments).

2. What are some examples of studies showing the success of bilingual education in the United States?

Mortensen (1984) compared grade 4,5 and 6 Spanish speaking students in two programs, a bilingual program with transitioning to English reading in grade 3, and a monolingual English program. In the bilingual program, literacy development was done at first in the first language, subject matter was taught in the first language, and ESL was provided. According to Mortensen, subjects in the two programs lived in "close proximity" to each other, and were from a similar socioeconomic background.

Mortensen reported no statistically significant differences between the groups on a word attack test, but the bilingual education students were significantly better on a test of comprehension skills.

de la Garza and Medina (1985) compared children (grades 1-3) in a bilingual program to English-dominant children in an all-English program, a very severe test. Eighty percent of the bilingual education children were classified as limited English proficient, but 94% of the comparisons were English-dominant. The first language was used 75% of the time in grade 1, 70% in grade 2 and 50% in grade 3. Reading instruction in the bilingual classes was done in Spanish, and language was alternated weekly or monthly in subject matter classes, with instructional language "contingent upon the L2 proficiency of the LEP student" (p. 251). Children in the bilingual program scored as well as the English-speaking comparison students and even outperformed them in the second grade vocabulary test. In addition, the socio-economic class of the English speaking children may have been higher (37% free lunches, versus 76%).

3. What is an example of a "natural experiment" informing us about bilingual education?

Gonzales (1989) compared English reading scores for sixth grade Mexican-American children born in Mexico who had received at least two years of their education in Mexico and Mexican-American children who had received all of their education in the US in English. All children were of low socio-economic status. The Mexican-born children did better on a test of English reading, and were only slightly worse in English conversation; both groups were near the ceiling of the conversation test.

4. Why is this an important result?

The Mexican-educated children had "de facto" bilingual education, literacy and subject matter teaching in their own language. This is strong evidence for bilingual education, because these are the components good bilingual programs provide.

5. What is an example of a study showing the success of bilingual education in other countries?

In Appel (1984) 26 Turkish and 31 Moroccan children ages 7 to 12.6 were placed in either bilingual or "regular" classes in Leiden in the Netherlands. The bilingual group had special instruction in Dutch for 20% of the time, and also had all subjects taught in the primary language for the first year, but "as soon as the immigrant children were able to understand and speak some Dutch, they joined Dutch children for a few hours a week in activities (gymnastics, music, and crafts) which were meant to encourage their integration into Dutch life" (p. 30). In the second year, the program was 50% primary language and 50% Dutch, and in year three all instruction was in Dutch. Comparison children had all instruction in Dutch, with 20% of the day in "special instruction." The children from the bilingual education group did slightly better than comparison students on tests of oral Dutch, but the differences were not statistically significant; the bilingual group did significantly better on a test of reading comprehension in Dutch.

Appel noted that "In general, it can be concluded that the amount of time on minority-language teaching in the transitional bilingual school ... did not harm or hinder the second language acquisition of the Turkish and Moroccan immigrant workers' children. At the end of the research period, these children were even somewhat ahead in oral and written second-language proficiency as compared to children who were instructed entirely or almost entirely in Dutch" (p. 50).

The impact of bilingual education was apparently not limited to language: "In the first three school years the mean percentage of 'problem children' in the (regular) group was nearly twice as high as in the (bilingual) group (24% vs. 13%). Social-emotional problems were exhibited in aggressive behavior, apathy ..." (p. 57).


END NOTE by Michael Peralta

Let Parents And Local School Boards Decide

I hope that everyone who has read this, gives the greatest weight to Dr. Kenji Hakuta and Dr. Stephen Krashen -- who are world renown experts in the field of Second Language Acquisition. Most importantly I hope we rely on scientific methods to affect policy in as many of the decisions that we make in our society. We should also understand that the educational needs of children vary and one method make work better for one child than another. Because of this we should inform and empower parents and school boards so that THEY can make the best decisions for their children. Statewide decisions like what are being made through California's Prop 227 and Arizona's Prop 203 can be a travesty to many children who need the assistance that comes from Bilingual Education. And many students DO succeed with Bilingual Education as the following testimonials show.


From Limited English Proficient To Medical Doctor

Story of Roberto Féliz

August 19, 2000

When Roberto Feliz came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, he knew only a few words of English. He was Limited English Proficient (LEP). Although he once loved school, it soon became a nightmare and he hid in class and often came home crying. An "A" student in his native country, Roberto started to think he was a failure and seriously considered dropping out of school. That was until Mrs. Malavé, a bilingual educator, began working with him to improve his English, while teaching math and science in his native language. As Roberto had the chance to demonstrate his ability and talents in his native Spanish, he regained his confidence and mastered English as well.

Today, Roberto is a succcesful doctor in Massachusetts who runs his own clinic and works with several hospitals, including the Boston Medical Center. He uses the skills he learned in bilingual education every day to treat patients in two languages.

"Before bilingual education I was failing all of my classes, I couldn't understand anything. Having the chance to learn in a good bilingual program allowed me to stay smart in subjects I loved, while teaching me the language I would later need to be successful. Bilingual education is why I am who I am today." - Roberto Féliz


My Biggest Regret Is Not Placing My Older Children In A Bilingual Education Program

by Gloria Kunz

Letter to Tucson Citizen

August 16, 2000

My biggest regret is not placing my older children in a bilingual education program. I was wise not to commit the same error with my youngest child who has been in a bilingual program from K-5.

My son, Yeshua, has benefited intuitively and academically by being in bilingual education. He is not just bilingual, he is biliterate and culturally sensitive!

My son can read and write impressively in both English and Spanish. His acquiring a second language did not stunt his learning process in English, as many individuals allege. In fact, being a student in a bilingual program has facilitated and enhanced his learning development, plus has instilled in him the importance of multiculturalism!

His bilingualism undoubtedly has been an asset rather than a deficit. His bilingualism has motivated him to be an honor student. And I'm positive that his bilingualism will make him more serviceable, competent and competitive when he graduates into the work force.

Latinos, take advantage of the educational opportunities that are being offered to your children in bilingual programs because soon they may be obsolete. Why? Because millionaires have witnessed the benefits and they don't want to share their wealth. Make a diligent effort to learn what bilingual education truly offers before believing all the fallacies and negative feedback that Ron Unz is promoting.

Fellow citizens, support bilingual programs because in the long run everyone in our nation will benefit. Remember, "una persona que habla dos idiomas vale por dos!" [a person who speaks two languages is twice as valuable]

Wake up, America. English is not the only valuable language in our country.

- Gloria Kunz, Tucson, AZ


Bilingual Education Brought Success

Excerpt from Arizona Daily Star

April 10, 2000

For the first few days of elementary school in the United States, Tatiana Sevillano felt isolated because she didn't understand the language. The 8-year-old had just moved to the country knowing only Spanish. She was raised in Peru by her Mexican-American mother and Peruvian father. "I would just sit there. I felt disconnected, isolated, scared and shy, timid, intimidated," said Sevillano, now 22.

But soon, she was placed in a bilingual education class at Roberts Elementary School in the Tucson Unified School District. And she wasn't so scared. "I got to meet the other kids who only spoke Spanish. I got to make friends. It was easier to learn because I didn't feel as intimidated," Sevillano said.

Sevillano already knew how to read in Spanish, but learning English and Spanish at the same time wasn't confusing. She was soon named student of the month and placed in gifted classes. "I used my Spanish to learn English," Sevillano said.

Now, Sevillano is about to graduate from the University of Arizona with a major in human resource management and a certificate in international business. She plans to work in international business or human resources before going to graduate school.