Archive for the ‘Myths and Realities about Bilingual Education’ Category

Myths and Realities about Bilingual Education

October 2, 2008

Myths and Realities about Bilingual Education Prepared by Neil Brick, E-mail :

Myth : Bilingual Education doesn’t work.

Reality : Good bilingual education programs work really well. Research has shown that students in bilingual education programs score higher in English than those in immersion programs.

Pedagogically speaking, bilingual programs have been shown to be superior to immersion programs. It makes sense that a teacher would want to teach a child in a language they understand, their first language, until they have fully mastered their second language. Research that backs this claim up include : The Ramirez dataset (Ramirez, Yuen and Ramey, 1991) states, “Spanish speaking students can be provided with substantial amounts of primary language instruction without impeding their acquisition of English language and reading skills….The data suggest that by Grade 6, students provided with English-only instruction may actually fall further behind their English speaking peers. Data also document that learning a second language will take six or more years’.” (Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 2nd Ed., Colin Baker, Multilingual Matters Ltd., c 1996 p.213-215)

In a Thomas and Collier study, with findings from five large urban and suburban school districts with more than 700,000 language minority student records from 1982-1996, only quality, long-term, enrichment bilingual programs using current approaches to teaching, such as one-way and two-way developmental bilingual education, when implemented to their full potential, will give language minority students the grade-level cognitive and academic development needed to be academically successful in English, and to sustain their success as they reach their high school years.”(“School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students” – Thomas and Collier, George Mason University – National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, The George Washington University Center for the Study of Language and Education, Washington, D.C.

More recent research also back up these claims. “Stanford 9 English Scores Show – A Consistent Edge For Bilingual Education – by James Crawford – April 15, 2000 – “In 1998-1999, for the third year in a row, students learning English in bilingual education programs scored significantly higher in [English] reading and language than students enrolled in English Only programs, according to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). The comparison of Stanford 9 achievement test results is found in the ADE’s latest report on the education of English learners in Arizona.” (

Californians Together: A Roundtable for Quality Education – Bilingual Schools Make Exceptional Gains on the State’s Academic Performance Index (API) Children in Bilingual Education Classes Performed Better in Tests of Academic Achievement Than Students Receiving Most of Their Instruction in English “This study shows that both groups of schools made progress on California’s API from 1999 to 2000. Bilingual schools exceeded their growth targets for Hispanic students by almost five times, while the comparison schools exceeded their targets by only four times. California parents making such important educational decisions for their children should know that students in bilingual education are performing better and are learning English,” said Dr. Norm Gold, who conducted the study at the request of Californians Together. ( )

“Bilingual Education, the Acquisition of English, and the Retention and Loss of Spanish” by Stephen Krashen “What the research shows – A number of studies have shown that bilingual education is effective, with children in well-designed programs acquiring academic English as well and often better than children in all-English programs (Willig, 1985; Cummins, 1989; Krashen, 1996; Greene, 1997)” “Cases like these provide strong support for the principles underlying bilingual education and are confirmed by numerous empirical studies showing that those who have a better education in their primary language excel in English language development (research reviewed in Krashen, 1996).” “Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language.” (

Myth : Students “languish” in Bilingual Education programs.

Reality : According to Antonio F. D. Cabral, a Democratic state representative, the overwhelming majority of bilingual education students (80 percent) are mainstreamed (into full English classes) in three years or less. Those that aren’t may be in special education or may have little or no education before coming to the United States. He also claims that in the past that this sink or swim approach caused a drop out rate of 80 to 90 percent for ELL’s (English Language Learners), and that this is why transitional bilingual education was originally developed. (Set Higher Standards, SouthCoast Today originally printed in Commonwealth magazine).

Myth : Bilingual Education is to blame for low test scores.

Reality : Looking at the 2000 MCAS grade 10 test scores shows that in Avon, Fairhaven, Gardner and Holbrook (all districts WITHOUT bilingual education), more than 50% of students failed the MCAS. Nearly identical scores were recorded for English Language Learners in bilingual programs in Brockton and Lynn. (META – Information Sheet – Roger Rice – 617-628-2226) Ninety-two percent of Framingham’s third-graders in the bilingual and ESL programs passed the MCAS this year (2001), compared with 93 percent of all students statewide. (Further information on the Framingham Bilingual Program is available at : (

Myth : California Test Scores prove that immersion is superior to bilingual education.

Reality : Research shows that since 1998, Stanford 9 test scores have shown a widening gap between non English fluent and English fluent students. In other words, test scores for both populations are increasing, perhaps due to increased test preparation. But non-English fluent learners are falling behind English fluent learners, since Prop. 227 passed. ( – Denis O’Leary, League of United Latin American Citizens – Far West Region – (805) 815-4442)

Myth : One year of immersion works.

Reality : Children are being held in immersion classes for several years. “Prof. David Ramirez of California State University at Long Beach reported that children in immersion were nowhere near ready for the mainstream after one year,” even with 70 percent having some English before they started in school. After first grade (two years of immersion), only 21 percent reached the redesignation (mainstreaming) standard, and after grade 2, 38 percent.” (“Are children ready for the mainstream after one year of “structured English immersion?”” Stephen Krashen – TESOL Newsletter (in press) (a total 992,126 limited English immigrant students in grades 2 through 11 have failed to become mainstreamed in English only classes after the third year of the passage of Prop. 227 – see LULAC above).

Other resources on bilingual education :

Office of Bilingual Education and Language Services, 26 Court St. 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02108

“Condemned Without A Trial – Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education” Stephen D. Krashen – Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH,

Portraits of Success – National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) – information on successful bilingual districts is at :

Leave No Child Behind : The Campaign to Preserve Flexibility and Choice in Education, P O Box 120-0089, Boston, MA 02112-0089 fax 617-482-4355

Mass English Plus Coalition, E-mail:, (617) 457-8885, 126 High Street, Boston, MA 02110,