ERIC Identifier: ED424792
Publication Date: 1998-11-00
Author: Crawford, James
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Ten Common Fallacies about Bilingual Education. ERIC Digest.
Researchers have made considerable advances in the fields of psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, bilingual pedagogy, and multicultural education. Today, we know a great deal more about the challenges faced by English language learners and about promising strategies for overcoming them. One such strategy, bilingual education, has been the subject of increasing controversy. Although a growing body of research points to the potential benefits, there are a number of commonly held beliefs about bilingual education that run counter to research findings. Based on current research, this digest clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding language use and bilingual education in the United States.
FALLACY 1: ENGLISH IS LOSING GROUND TO OTHER LANGUAGES IN THE UNITED STATES
FALLACY 2: NEWCOMERS TO THE UNITED STATES ARE LEARNING ENGLISH MORE SLOWLY NOW THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS
FALLACY 3: THE BEST WAY TO LEARN A LANGUAGE IS THROUGH "TOTAL IMMERSION"
FALLACY 4: CHILDREN LEARNING ENGLISH ARE RETAINED TOO LONG IN BILINGUAL CLASSROOMS, AT THE EXPENSE OF ENGLISH ACQUISITION
Research over the past two decades has determined that, despite appearances, it takes children a long time to attain full proficiency in a second language. Often, they are quick to learn the conversational English used on the playground, but normally they need several years to acquire the cognitively demanding, decontextualized language used for academic pursuits (Collier & Thomas, 1989).
Bilingual education programs that emphasize a gradual transition to English and offer native-language instruction in declining amounts over time, provide continuity in children's cognitive growth and lay a foundation for academic success in the second language. By contrast, English-only approaches and quick-exit bilingual programs can interrupt that growth at a crucial stage, with negative effects on achievement (Cummins, 1992).
FALLACY 5: SCHOOL DISTRICTS PROVIDE BILINGUAL INSTRUCTION IN SCORES OF NATIVE LANGUAGES
FALLACY 6: BILINGUAL EDUCATION MEANS INSTRUCTION MAINLY IN STUDENTS' NATIVE LANGUAGES, WITH LITTLE INSTRUCTION IN ENGLISH
Today, a majority of bilingual programs continue to deliver a substantial portion of the curriculum in English. According to one study, school districts reported that 28% of LEP elementary school students receive no native-language instruction. Among those who do, about a third receive more than 75% of their instruction in English; a third receive from 40 to 75% in English; and one third of these receive less than 40% in English. Secondary school students are less likely to be instructed in their native language than elementary school students (Hopstock et al. 1993).
FALLACY 7: BILINGUAL EDUCATION IS FAR MORE COSTLY THAN ENGLISH LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
FALLACY 8: DISPROPORTIONATE DROPOUT RATES FOR HISPANIC STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE THE FAILURE OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION
FALLACY 9: RESEARCH IS INCONCLUSIVE ON THE BENEFITS OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION
Close analysis of Rossell and Baker's claims reveals some serious flaws of their own. Krashen (1996) questions the rigor of several studies the reviewers included as methodologically acceptable--all unfavorable to bilingual education and many unpublished in the professional literature. Moreover, Rossell and Baker relied heavily on program evaluations from the 1970s, when bilingual pedagogies were considerably less well developed. Compounding these weaknesses is their narrative review technique, which simply counts the votes for or against a program alternative--a method that leaves considerable room for subjectivity and reviewer bias (Dunkel, 1990).
Meta-analysis, a more objective method that weighs numerous variables in each study under review, has yielded more positive findings about bilingual education (Greene, 1998; Willig, 1985).
Most important, Krashen (1996) shows that Rossell and Baker are content to compare programs by the labels they have been given, with little consideration of the actual pedagogies being used. They treat as equivalent all approaches called TBE, even though few program details are available in many of the studies under review. Researchers who take the time to visit real classrooms understand how dangerous such assumptions can be. According to Hopstock et al. (1993), "When actual practices...are examined, a bilingual education program might provide more instruction in English than...an 'English as a second language' program." Moreover, from a qualitative perspective, programs vary considerably in how (one or both) languages are integrated into the curriculum and into the social context of the school. Finally, simplistic labels are misleading because bilingual and English immersion techniques are not mutually exclusive; several studies have shown that successful programs make extensive use of both (see, e.g., Ramirez et al., 1991).
Even when program descriptions are available, Rossell and Baker sometimes ignore them. For example, they cite a bilingual immersion program in El Paso as a superior English-only (submersion) approach, although it includes 90 minutes of Spanish instruction each day in addition to sheltered English. The researchers also include in their review several studies of French immersion in Canada, which they equate with all-English, structured immersion programs in the United States. As the Canadian program designers have repeatedly stressed, these models are bilingual in both methods and goals, and they serve students with needs that are quite distinct from those of English learners in this country.
FALLACY 10: LANGUAGE-MINORITY PARENTS DO NOT SUPPORT BILINGUAL EDUCATION BECAUSE THEY FEEL IT IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR THEIR CHILDREN TO LEARN ENGLISH THAN TO MAINTAIN THE NATIVE LANGUAGE
Chambers, J., & Parrish, T. (1992). "Meeting the challenge of diversity: An evaluation of programs for pupils with limited proficiency in English. Vol. IV, cost of programs and services for LEP students." Berkeley, CA: BW Associates.
Collier, V. P., & Thomas, W. P. (1989). How quickly can immigrants become proficient in school English? "Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students," 5, p26-39.
Cummins, J. (1992). Bilingual Education and English Immersion: The Ramirez Report in Theoretical Perspective. "Bilingual Research Journal," 16, p91-104.
Dunkel, P. (1990). Implications of the CAI effectiveness research for limited-English-proficient learners. "Computers in the Schools," 7, p31-52.
Greene, J. P. (1998). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of bilingual education. Claremont, CA: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
Hopstock, P., Bucaro, B., Fleischman, H. L., Zehler, A. M., & Eu, H. (1993). "Descriptive Study of Services to Limited English Proficient Students." Arlington, VA: Development Associates.
Kloss, H. (1998). "The American Bilingual Tradition." Washington, DC and McHenry, IL.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics and Delta Systems Inc.
Krashen, S. D. (1996). "Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education." Culver City, CA: Language Education Associates.
Lockwood, A. T. (1996). Caring, Community, and Personalization: Strategies to Combat the Hispanic Dropout Problem. "Advances in Hispanic Education, 1." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Ramirez, J. D., Yuen, S. D., & Ramey, D. R. (1991). "Final report: Longitudinal study of structured immersion strategy, early-exit, and late-exit transitional bilingual education programs for language-minority children. Executive summary." San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International.
Rossell, C., & Baker, K. (1996). The Educational Effectiveness of Bilingual Education. "Research in the Teaching of English," 30, p7-74.
Veltman, C. (1988). "The Future of the Spanish Language in the United States." Washington, DC: Hispanic Policy Development Project.
Waggoner, D. (1995, November). Are Current Home Speakers of Non-English Languages Learning English? "Numbers and Needs, 5."
Willig, Ann C. 1985. A Meta-Analysis of Selected Studies on the Effectiveness of Bilingual Education. "Review of Educational Research," 55, p269-317.
This Digest is drawn from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE) report Best Evidence: Research Foundations of the Bilingual Education Act (1997), by James Crawford. For the complete report, see the NCBE home page at http://www.ncbe.gwu.edu.
James Crawford is author of "Bilingual Education: History, Politics, Theory, and Practice," 4th ed. (Los Angeles: Bilingual Educational Services, 1999) 800-448-6032.