Bilingual education: On the ballot

So, Ron Unz has arrived in Colorado, and he’s going to make me vote in November about the future of bilingual education in my state.

Here’s the deal: I’m a 28-year-old white guy. I don’t know anything about the best way to teach young children English while keeping them up with other subjects. Add to that the fact that Colorado has a large population of individuals whose lives this program would directly impact. I feel that I am wholly unqualified to render a decision on this matter. I need the guiding light of the SDMB to set me straight. Help me Dopers; you’re my only hope.

I’ve read this thread, but it seemed to devolve into a cite-fight between Kimstu and december. I’d prefer that not happen to this thread. The impression I get is that there is no one good way to educate all children, and that educational method decisions should be made on an individual basis. Surprise, surprise. :slight_smile:

Unfortunately, Colorado isn’t going to let me mandate individually-determined instruction for all children. They are, however, going to make me say yes or no on this:

What I would like to see are discussions about the effect eliminating (or severely curtailing) bilingual education has had on other states that have done it. California, I’m looking at you, here. Also, opinions of parents of students going through, or graduated from bilingual education programs, or of the kids themselves, would be good. And finally, whether this measure is a step in the right direction, or a cutting blow that will keep our kids from making it in this country.

BTW, I’d also like to avoid having to read posts about whether English is the official language of the U.S. (it’s not), about how forms and signs printed in Spanish or Hungarian or whatever are draining the public coffers, about illegal immigration, or racially motivated snipes. These are kids we’re talking about, and I’d like to do right by them come November. Dopers, what say you? Yay or nay?

The New York Times had an article around a year ago about a Principal in a southern California public school with many Hispanic students. He was a staunch supporter of bilingual education.

After his school was forced to drop the program, he saw the results and totally changed his view.

I’ll try to find a cite for this.
This may be the one I was remembering.

Arizona also dropped bilingual education, with mixed results. Here is an interesting discussion from the NewsHour. The pros and cons are discussed.

december, thanks. The setup of that article pretty well demonstrates what’s happening in Colorado, too: Pretty much everyone agrees that bilingual education here is broken. The main problem is how to fix it. Do we scrap it, like Unz wants to do? Or do we modify it to make it work? More importantly, where are the voices of the parents of these children? How do they want their children to be taught? I don’t give a rat’s ass what Ron Unz thinks about BE. What do people without an agenda, who have the kids’ best interests at heart, think?

That guy’s experience is interesting, but the question remains: Is his experience the rule or the exception?

ISTM that immersion supplemented with special instruction for immigrant pupils worked very well for the whole melting-pot history of this country. It certainly worked for my immigrant family.

So, the burden of proof is on BE to demonstrate that it’s better than the prior system. Also, BE is expensive, so it ought not to be used unless it produces significantly better results. BE has failed to meet this burden, and, in fact, it seems to have been worse in many areas.

Calling BE “broken” implies that it once worked, but no longer does so. If something is “broken”, it can be restored to its working state. AFAIK BE never worked. It has been given a more than fair trial in many parts of the US and for many years. It simply hasn’t worked.

For all I know, there may be some variant of it that could be effective. But, I see no reason to burden the immigrant children of America until such a program is developed, if it ever is. Results to date are obviously discouraging.

Since nobody knows how to modify it to make it work, this is not a real choice.

That’s a good question. Parents of children in public schools have little say over whether their children are enrolled into BE. However, what about immigrants wealthy enough to send their children to private schools? It would be interesting to see how many of them choose private schools that offer BE.

Which is not true. BE education programs are successfully chiming out students with high aptitude for tertiary studies every year all over the world. The International Baccalaureate program based on a French High School/first-year-of-college curriculum mainly focused on English spoken classes, but with a heavy portion of the national language where it is being taught, is just one example. More or less every metropolitan city in the world has bilingual private schools that cater to the international community, and successfully so.

As I said in a post in the other thread linked to in the OP, I went through trilingual education switching between bilingual systems and monolingual English, French and Swedish schools. I found that the bilingual systems were the most rewarding ones. Basically the trick was and is to adapt the bilingual mix to the need of the individual student and their linguistic background. Therefore for instance we non-native speaking French kids received extra tutoring in French while the French kids got extra tutoring in English. Our classes where in the language that was most logical to the topic meaning that English Lit was in English, French Lit was in French, Social Studies in French (since we were in France) and so on. Neutral subjects from a language perspective such as Physics were given in both languages and we had the choice of attending either a French or English class.

It worked fine, and even the American kids that were exposed to a second language for the first time at age 12 or higher got along quite well. By the end of one year in so call adaptation class, where all subjects were in English, but an extreme weight was given to French language tutoring most of them had achieved enough fluency to follow at least some of the exclusively French spoken classes and thus entered into the fully bilingual program.

In my viewpoint the failure of bilingual education programs described in the links above is the rigid approach to the bilingual mix. Language aptitude has very much to do with the linguistic background of the child, as I described in my post in the other thread. Thus the capacity to assimilate a language will depend on the age and previous exposure to foreign languages. Studies have shown that a child that has acquired language the monolingual way full fluency is usually not to be achieved on a native speaking level after the age of four, independent of immersion level. Enough language acquisition capacity is retained up to the age of twelve to warrant bilingual education programs, but these must be coupled with intensive language support. I should note that these findings have been proven to be universal and coupled to the inherent language acquisition capacity that we are born with, but usually loose after acquiring language.

Post the time when language acquisition capacity has eroded or been heavily weakened a child will suffer greatly by being forced into an educational system in a foreign language since it is most unlikely that they will achieve enough fluency to follow a complete curriculum in the second language. By adapting the tutoring of each student to their individual needs, and using methods like adaptation class with heavy weight on the second language studies it becomes possible to at least put these children thorough a bilingual schooling, which will likely give them more educational reward on all scholastic levels since they thereby can follow the neutral subjects in their native tongue and are yet heavily exposed to the second language through the mandatory classes in that language.

Hence to sum it up: The younger the child is the more likely a full immersion program is to work. At a certain point, somewhere towards the age of twelve it might be that the full immersion program will still achieve more fluency, but this will be at the cost of other scholastic achievement.

In the end it all depends on what your goal is. If all you want is fully fluent speaking second class citizens who can only contribute to the new country as a menial workforce due to pretty good language skills, but otherwise lousy education I recommend a full immersion monolingual system across the board. The nationalist might see an upside in that you achieve a linguistically homogenous population that can go on and be good little patriots and perhaps give birth to a third generation that will have better chances than they did, and probably be damned well motivated to not live the serf life of their parents.

If, on the other hand, you advocate a pluralistic society with the highest possible average level of education; you might want to accept that a one language society is neither a must-be nor a given and that education needs be adapted to the individual and not some hogwash ideas of what is linguistically best for the nation. In any case you can be fairly certain that the next generation will take on the language of society around them as their first language, everyone I know with that background shows this to be true, as do studies on the matter, one of which I linked to in the other thread.


Sparc said:

Thanks for taking my subtle hint in the other thread. :smiley:

This is one of the reasons I’m so suspicious of BE opponents. There always seems to be an underlying current of “English at the expense of everything else” about them.

I think that one of the main problems in the US as regards BE, as opposed to Europe, is that there isn’t a melange of languages really recognized as useful here. If you don’t speak English, you’ll have a hard time here, whereas Europe seems to have a more liguistically pluralistic society. My impression was always that you could get around in Europe speaking only French, or only German, or whatever. Speaking only Spanish in the US, for example, doesn’t really work. So, if you don’t speak English, all other doors are closed to you. At least if you do speak English, you can get one of those menial jobs and have some possibility for advancement.

The problem we really face is not getting everyone to speak the same language, it’s how to educate kids so they can do their best. Do we teach them how to do addition and subtraction in Spanish, or do we teach them how to do it in English and then hope they not only learn English from the process, but math as well? If I was a kid, I’d want to tackle one thing at a time: If I speak Spanish, teach me in Spanish. I’ll pick English up in English class, and by living in the society. The problem with that is that many of these students don’t get immersion training in the outside world (many communities are Spanish-speaking only), and immersion seems to work best for actually learning a language.

The two goals (teaching kids English and teaching them math), seem opposed to each other in this situation, and that’s what I’m struggling with.

Sparc, I appreciate what you say, particularly since you’re speaking from experience. However, there’s quite a distinction between the concept of bilingual education and the specific program called Billingual Education here in the US. You experienced the former and it worked well for you. I’m in awe of your English skills. However, what’s done here in the US is a particular structure, which has not worked as well as old-fashioned immersion.

Necros, I don’t have the cites here at hand, but I recall studies that have shown BE students not only doing worse in English, but also doing worse in other subjects that were taught in their native languages. So, there may not be a conflict between teaching kids English and teaching them math.

I sort of agree, but yet not. One must acknowledge that monolingual Europeans will not get along in Europe, but only in the region where their tongue is spoken. People of higher education are almost unilaterally bilingual or trilingual in Europe. Most young people with a college degree or better in their pocket or in the making speak English at a level where they are capable of interacting equally in a business environment, and pursuing university level studies.

In the older generations the educated elite have an old tradition of speaking their own language while having enough command of other languages to follow conversation and even do business. I have many times marveled at business meetings with people from the baby boom generation where up to three, sometimes even four languages where being spoken and yet all was understood smoothly.

This nevertheless leaves out the vast majority of Europeans of average education or worse who will often only speak their mother tongue and hence remain with no other choice than to make out a living in their home state. Scandinavia and Holland are exempt to this phenomena since English has become a de-facto second language in these parts due to the heavy exposure to English media, and the need for these extremely small linguistic groups to break the tethers of monolingual existence in order to act on equal par in the increasingly international business environment.

I think that the choice is not in any way to let children slip into a monolingual life that stands apart from the majority, therefore any educational system must take into consideration the linguistic needs dictated by society, otherwise we end up with a second class citizenry due to lacking language capacity, which is no better.

It might have come across as if I disagree completely with december because of quoting him in my previous post. Actually I agree partially. There is no doubt that the BE programs as constructed in the States do not fulfill the needs of the children to become productive members of society. I might add that this applies to public school bilingual programs in parts of Europe as well. I do however not agree that full immersion monolingual education is the panacea to this problems since it creates another set of problems in and of itself. BE versus ME therefore becomes a choice between pest and cholera. I think the public schools BE programs need to be reformed and the only way to reform them is to acknowledge that the cattle herd approach to education will exasperate the problem as much here as it does in general schooling. The current trend in pedagogy is to acknowledge the individual and to increase flexibility of the educational paths made available. Therefore I advocate reform that follows this pattern and understands that the level of bilingual education will depend on the age of the child, the child’s linguistic background and individual scholastic aptitude. “Too expensive,” says the pundit. “Too expensive not to do it,” says I. Compound the social costs and risks involved in creating a social class that is disenfranchised and set apart from the average population and I am certain that the cost of reform towards a functioning BE program will be disappearingly small in comparison, and that the benefits to society will be so high that it actually becomes a net gain, even counted in cash revenues over one generation. In any case such reform is not so much a question of cost as it is one of brains and focus.


Ah, yes. Oceanside. Unfortunately, most of the claims made by the “English Only” camp have been refuted here and here.

Because students need some kind of linguistic “backing” in one language before beginning a second language, merely throwing a child into a “sink-or-swim” situation will do more harm than good. See this (admittedly long) article about bilingual education.

december, I’d also like to see your cites for this statement.


Here’s the problem with BE, as the child of a mother who taught in the system for several years. When properly administered, BE is the best way to teach older kids multiple education fields. Every serious study on the subject confirms this. Unfortunately, however, BE programs are almost never administered properly. Proper BE requires gradual immersion into mainstream (English taught) courses. If you dump a 9th grade immigrant into an English course, he’s going to fail. However, if you teach him other subjects in Spanish and gradually increase the immersion amount, he comes out just fine. This requires very careful tracking, though…something most school districts are just not equipped to do. Moreover, I would guess that a majority of the teachers currently teaching BE are not properly trained in it. This results in students sometimes not progressing in English as well as they should.

So anyway…my opinion that a properly funded BE program with properly trained teachers and the tracking mechanism to handle it is the absolute best way to do it. English immersion is quicksand for older students not fluent in English, they will simply drown. For younger students it probably doesn’t make much difference either way.

So, IMO, go with English-only. It’s cheaper, less likely to be messed up, and will only harm a small percentage of students. By the by, I don’t know if this has become an issue, but Unz is definitely NOT some anti-immigrant nativist. So if you hear that used against the initiative, ignore it. He genuinely believes that this is in their best interest, not out of some fear of them Mexicans takin’ over our land.

Oh yeah…bilingual education is not a new thing. It was quite common for Germans and Italians to practice it prior to WWII. Citey citey.

There is some middle groung between bilingual education and simply throwing a child into the mix to sink or swim. This is the system at the high school I teach at here in Texas:

First year students with no English skills start in the English Language Institute (ELI). Here they recieve 90 minutes of instruction a day in English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Materiel covered is very minimal, and the real focus in all those subjects is teaching English. Students get very little credit–I think 4 credits for the entire year, when a normal schedule of classes results in eight. This is so that they will still be freshmen the next year and do not have to take the graduation exam the year after that.

Second year students (freshmen) go into intermediate ESL classes: they take English, reading, social studies, science, PE, math, maybe an art elective (I’m not sure about that). Core classes are taught by ESL teachers in smallish (22-28) classes, and again the focus is as much on correct English useage as on the material covered.

Third year students (sophmores) are in Advanced ESL–this is more or less like intermediate, but with higher expectations. Up until this year this was the year they first took the graduation exam, though starting this year that has moved (for all students, not just ESL) to the junior year). There is also supposed to be an additional class at this level focusing on composistion, which I am suppoed to teach, but it hasn’t come together yet.

Fourth year students ( juniors) take sheltered classes–these are, again, smallish classes made up of ESL students: you have Sheltered English, Sheltered Science, etc. Starting with sheltered, the focus is more on the material than on the language–students have to pass the same course final (which is written by the district here in Dallas) as everyone else.

Fifth year students (senoirs) The way the system works, by senior year students are supposed to be fully integrated and released into the general population. I don’t believe we offer “sheltered” versions of senoir level classes.

Now then, not all kids go through the five years exactly like it is laid out here: some start with some faculty in English and so maybe skip ELI and go straight to intermediate, or even advanced. Some kids do so well in ELI that they skip out of intermediate and get a chance to make up the year they lost–there are a couple sections of sheltered sophmore english, for example.

So as you can see, “abandoning bilingual education” does not have to mean “throwing immigrant kids in to sink or swim.”

One thing I do not understand about bilingual education is how they even do it–I can see how one might find enough intructors for the children who speak Spanish, but in my experience that is just the tip of the ESL iceburg–here in Dallas, only about half our ESL kids are from spanish speaking countires–we have kids every year from the Middle East, Far East, all different parts of Africa, Bosnia, Afganistan–there are 60+ languages spoken in my high school. Hell, we have 47 children classified as refugees. How do “bilingual education” programs find teachers for these kids? Or are they just emersed, since the money is going to “bilingual education”?

Colourwolf, here’s the entire paragraph that you quoted from.

Kenji Hakuta seems to think that regression to the mean implies that a district with results far off the statewide mean will tend to move toward the statement mean. That would only be true if the extreme result were due to random or transient factors. In general a subgroup can remain consistently different from the mean when the reason for the difference is systemic. E.g., Harvard SAT scores stay consistently far above the mean over all colleges.

Kenji Hakutaf could have properly investigated RTTM by cheeking whether the baseline year had unusually low values for this district. That fact that past results for Oceanside were not discussed tells me that the author, (a Professor of Education at Stanford University!), is either dishonest or an ignoramus. :wally

(On a personal note, my daughter has a Masters in Education from Stanford, but she left teaching after a few years. I’m beginning to understand why.)

Here’s one:

Absolutely. Sorry if I implied otherwise.

Excellent question, and one that has not really been addressed effectively by educators. Obviously the school board cannot afford to hire teachers for every language, nor would they want to. But then again, you are giving students 4 years of special English classes. Most research seems to indicate that it requires 3 to 5 years to attain oral proficiency, and academic English proficiency can take 4 to 7 years. So your school seems to be doing an excellent job.

As an aside, in your school, are non-native speakers separated from native-speakers for every subject for the first four years of high school? If so, does this create any problems for the students?

Are you sure about that? :slight_smile:


While he may or may not be racist, he is certainly loony.

Maybe…but just because he criticized a minority doesn’t mean he’s a racist. And the charges he leveled against Molera, that he only got the nomination so the Republican party could show off its “diverse” face is nothing that wasn’t leveled against Watts at times. I do know, however, that he was ardently against Prop 187 in California, and from his positions on other stuff, he generally seems to have what he believes to be the best interests of the people he is advocating for at heart. Whether they actually ARE the best interests is something to be debated.

California didn’t institute statewide Stanford 9 testing until the 1997-98 academic year, so the comparison cannot be made.

Furthermore, scores increased for districts that never used bilingual education and those that did, for native-English speakers and non-native English speakers. However, the gap between English learners and other students remained, and in some cases grew.

cite (Warning: pdf)

From now on, I’ll try to keep the cite-fight to a minimum, as per necros request. :wink:


Correct. However, I did say “he may or may not be racist.”

The article where Unz compares himself to bin Laden seems to firmly establish his loony credentials, though.



Your new cite has a more plausible set of excuses for the post Prop. 227 gains than the Kenji Hakutaf article. Nevertheless, people actually in the district attributed the improvement to the droppoing of BE, and they ought to know. Note that there is a big pro-BE contingent within the eduational establishment, so it’s hard to know whether any source has a bias.

If scores increased because people were teaching to the new test or because they implemented phonics, these changes would be independent of RTTM. Since the Stanford 9 test was new in the baseline year, before claiming RTTM, Hakutaf should investigated trend and consistency by means of whatever tests had been used previously in the Oceanside district. At the very least, Hakutaf ought to have mentioned that s/he tried get earlier data and it was unavailable. So, this additional cite strengthens the case for BE, but it doesn’t excuse Hakutaf for mis-applying RTTM.