Studies hit native-language education

Bilingual program reported failing

Educating non-English-speaking children in their native language produces disappointing results in student achievement, say education researchers who examined several recent studies.

“We know that bilingual programs are failing,” said Rosalie Pedalino Porter, chairman of the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ). “Native-language teaching is not improving educational opportunities for these students.”

There’s no evidence for the superiority of native-language programs over those using intensive English-language instruction, and no improvement in the high school dropout rate for Latino students receiving native-language instruction, READ researchers said at a press conference yesterday.

In fact, delayed acquisition of English keeps older pupils out of core courses and is often the reason that students with limited English proficiency fail to stay in school and graduate, Mrs. Porter said.

Current federal law requires that 75 percent of federal grants to teach English to non-native speakers go to programs that use extensive native-language instruction. That leaves 25 percent of the grants (up from 4 percent before
1988) for alternative instructional programs such as English as a Second Language (ESL), which does not require the teacher to instruct the child in his native language.

That 25 percent cap for alternative programs can only be exceeded if the jurisdiction can demonstrate why bilingual education is impractical.

READ, a 6-year-old Washington-based research institute, wants the federal government and states to lift all mandates for bilingual or native-language instruction.

Officials of the institute yesterday cited studies that show the failure of bilingual education to promote English literacy and the success of special alternative instructional programs such as ESL, “sheltered” English and structured immersion.

A recent study in New York City found that 80 percent of students enrolled in special alternative English programs were put in mainstream classes within two to three years, compared with 51 percent of students in bilingual or native-language programs, according to Mrs. Porter.

“Intensive English programs show good results in student achievement in many places across the country,” Mrs. Porter said. “One of the best programs is in the back yard of the nation’s capital in Fairfax, Virginia.”

Districts that may have 50 or 60 different foreign languages spoken by children in one school must turn to alternative instructional programs because it is impossible to find enough teachers fluent in the variety of languages to provide native-language instruction.

That has led some districts to import teachers fluent in Spanish but who cannot speak English.

“A bilingual teacher who knows no English is a corruption,” Mrs. Porter said.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other Hispanic organizations that support native-language instruction fear that if schools are allowed to abandon bilingual education they will opt for a total immersion, sink-or-swim program that would produce even higher dropout rates.

Of the 3 million students with limited English proficiency in America’s schools, only about 300,000 are enrolled in federally funded programs. The fiscal 1995 budget is $245 million.

“We’re not suggesting a ban on bilingual education, but there shouldn’t be mandates,” Mrs. Porter said.

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