Did a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Program in a Kansas School District Affect Students' Academic Achievement in English?

Article excerpt

Abstract:

What happens to English academic achievement when valued class time is devoted to a foreign language in the elementary schools (FLES) program? Is there a reduction in achievement as suggested by a time-on-task hypothesis, or is there some form of compensation, as suggested by additive bilingualism? The school district in this study started a FLES program with Grade 2 students in five schools in 1995-96, and the students continued FLES through Grades 3, 4, and 5. Students in the other eight district schools received no FLES. The FLES and no-FLES students were compared based on the Grade 6 Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), using Grade 2 ITBS Survey Battery to control for initial variation in test scores. No significant statistical difference was found.

Key words: academic achievement; bilingual; cognitive; FLES (foreign language in the elementary schools); positive bilingualism

Languages: French, Spanish

Introduction

Articles stating that studying a foreign language in school will increase the academic achievement of K-12 students, especially in communication arts, have appeared in numerous education journals and books (e.g., Black, 2000; Cawelti, 1995; Frantz, 1996; Genesee & Cloud, 1998; Heller, 1996; Latham, 1998; Marcos & Peyton, 2000). There has also been important theoretical work that seeks to integrate evidence of the effects of studying a foreign language on academic achievement, as well as other cognitive abilities, such as intelligence. For example, Peal and Lambert's landmark 1962 research (as cited in Hakuta, Ferdman, & Diaz, 1986) provided grounds for the additive bilingualism theory, which holds that learning a second language (L2) . in an appropriate and supportive academic context produces a salutary cognitive effect that compensates for the resultant reduction in first language (Ll) instruction time. The additive bilingualism theory also holds that under supportive circumstances, bilingualism produces a net improvement in the higher reasoning ability of students (Lambert, 1990). More recently, Cummins (1998) proposed an associative mechanism for additive bilingualism-the common underlying proficiency (CUP)-to explain how this phenomenon occurs. CUP proposes that development of proficiency in an L2 drives increases in the development of a common underlying linguistic mechanism that produces net advances in overall linguistic proficiency. Bialystok (2001, cited in Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004) has also developed an associative model that may explain additive bilingualism. Bialystok's theory holds that learning an L2 enhances the cognitive executive function by demanding that the individual develop the ability to mentally focus on and use one language at a time.

These additive bilingualism theories contrast with the time-on-task theories advocated by Rossell (1992), Rossell and Baker (1996), and Porter (1998), which hold that there is no special cognitive effect and that academic achievement in a language is specific to that language and in direct proportion to instructional time in that language.

In considering these theories, is it important to note that they derive from two different kinds of L2 education. Rossell, Baker, and Porter were researching bilingual education, which is concerned with teaching students who speak a minority language to speak a majority language. In the United States, bilingual education is most often aimed at teaching Spanish-speaking students to speak English by providing them initially with instruction in Spanish and transitioning them into English. Peal and Lambert, Cummins, and Bialystok were originally researching foreign language education, which teaches speakers of a majority language (English in the United States) to speak another language. The researchers cited have generally acknowledged that the two fields of L2 education are related, and that research conducted in one has some relevance to the other (Cummins, 1998; Lambert, 1990; Porter, 1998; Rossell & Baker, 1996). …