Students Not Hampered by Bilingual Study, Report Says the Debate over Bilingual Education Has Focused on Methods. but a Federal Study Shows That Many Teachers Do Not Motivate Students Well

By Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Students Not Hampered by Bilingual Study, Report Says the Debate over Bilingual Education Has Focused on Methods. but a Federal Study Shows That Many Teachers Do Not Motivate Students Well


Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


SPANISH-speaking students who receive bilingual instruction advance at the same rate as other students and are not hindered in learning English, according to a long-awaited report from the US Department of Education.

The $45-million study appears to affirm the current administration's policy on this fiercely debated issue.

"Based on this study, we can conclude that bilingual education benefits students," says Ted Sanders, acting secretary of education, "and school administrators can choose the method best suited to their students, confident that if well-implemented it will reap positive results."

The seven-year study tracked 2,000 Spanish-speaking elementary schoolers in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey. It was conducted by Aguirre International in San Mateo, Calif.

The three main bilingual programs use different amounts of English and Spanish in the classroom:

- Immersion programs instruct students in English, with Spanish used only for clarification. The goal is to move pupils into all-English classes by the end of first or second grade.

- Early-exit programs provide initial instruction in Spanish and phase into English-only instruction by second grade.

- Late-exit programs use Spanish about 40 percent of the time. Students often stay in these programs through sixth grade.

"This study was supposed to be the `Wild West, OK-Corral shootout' between the opponents of bilingual education and people who believe in bilingual education," says James J. Lyons, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

It "clarifies some of the issues that have been hovering around bilingual education for the past 20 years," says Rita Esquivel, director of the Education Department's Office of Bilingual Education and Minority-Language Affairs.

But advocates of intensive English instruction criticize the study for not reporting students' achievement levels.

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