Promoting Bilingualism in the Era of Unz: Making Sense of the Gap between Research, Policy, and Practice in Teacher Education

By Katz, Susan Roberta | Multicultural Education, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Promoting Bilingualism in the Era of Unz: Making Sense of the Gap between Research, Policy, and Practice in Teacher Education


Katz, Susan Roberta, Multicultural Education


Introduction

"Therefore, It is resolved that: all children in California public schools shall be taught English as rapidly and effectively as possible...." This resolution lies at the heart of Proposition 227, passed by California voters on June 2, 1998, by a 61-39 margin. The requirements of Proposition 227 are now incorporated in state law as Education Code sections 300-400. Proposition 227 represents "the worst setback for bilingual education since the World War I era" (Crawford, 1998b).

At the same time as Prop. 227 was approved, longitudinal research studies showed that certain bilingual programs lead to highly successful results (Crawford, 1998; Thomas & Collier, 1997; Ramirez et al., 1991). A 1998 report of student achievement (as measured in standardized test scores) revealed that second language learners who had been enrolled in bilingual programs in San Francisco and San Jose, California, schools actually outperformed native-born English speakers in all content areas (Asimov, 1998).

How can we understand this acute discrepancy between research and policy that occurs in the area of bilingual education? Furthermore, how can we address this discrepancy in our School of Education classrooms where we are training future teachers of bilingual children? These are the critical questions I wish to address in this article, offering solutions based upon research of my own teacher education courses.

This research study examines efforts to promote bilingualism in a course for prospective teachers, "Education of Bilingual Children: Theory and Practice." This course is regarded as foundational to the Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development (CLAD) credential in California and is taken during the first semester of the teacher education program. The course is accompanied by two hours per week of fieldwork in local bilingual/ESL classrooms. I first developed this course in 1996, and since then I have jointly taught it with three other Bay Area bilingual educators, including a teacher in a Spanish-- English two-immersion bilingual program and a principal of a Filipino newcomer elementary school

The purpose of this study is to gain understanding of how our students-as prospective teachers of bilingual childrengrapple with the complex relationship of research, policy, and practice within the field of bilingual education. Specifically, what does it mean to focus upon scholarship which strongly supports native language instruction when, at the same time, public opinion and policy are swiftly shifting in the opposite direction?

Most importantly, what kinds of pedagogical experiences can we provide for our students to assist them in making sense of these incongruities? We have found that engaging our students in their own research in bilingual settings, based upon their own burning questions, provided the best response to that question. In addition, creating an atmosphere in which students felt that their own reflections were respected served to allow and encourage the opportunity for personal transformation.

Theoretical Framework

The teacher education program shares the belief that students learn best when theory is grounded in solid practice (Dewey, 1938) and when students themselves are engaged in productive social interaction (Vygotsky, 1978). The Education of Bilingual Children course, in particular, uses the theoretical contributions of such contemporary educators as Cummins (1995), Nieto (1994), Krashen and his critics, McLaughlin (1987), and Wong Fillmore (1991). The course includes readings by researchers who have conducted extensive studies of bilingual programs (Thomas & Collier, 1997; Ramirez et al., 1991) as well as autobiographical accounts of bilingual students (Rodriguez, 1982; Olsen, 1988).

The course and this analysis of it are both framed in the Freirean notion (1986) that students learn most effectively if they participate in personally meaningful dialogue on the readings and then deepen their understanding through social practice, such as classroom observation and action research (Montero-Sieburth, M. …

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