One thing about the bilingual education debate: Studies won’t settle it.

For almost every expert who concludes children learn English better when they have a strong foundation in their native language, another expert pokes holes in the assertion.

The problem with such studies is that they deal with children, not lab rats. Charges are also made of bias and flawed methodology.

“Studies quickly have become politicized by advocacy groups selectively promoting research findings to support their positions,” said Dr. Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University, chief of a 1997 bilingual review study for the National Research Council.

Here are summaries of key studies:


  • Finding: English-immersion students fall behind bilingual students
    by grade six.
  • Study: Five-year study ending in 1992 by David Ramirez, now of California
    State University, Long Beach, compared three methods of instruction for
    2,000 Spanish-speaking, limited-English elementary students – English immersion,
    early-exit transition from Spanish to English, and late-exit transition
    from Spanish to English.
  • Criticism: Re-analysis of Ramirez’s data by anti-bilingual professors
    found no consistent achievement differences among the three groups of students.
  • Finding: Some native-language instruction is beneficial, especially
    for children in kindergarten through second grade.
  • Study: 1997 National Research Council study, chaired by Kenji Hakuta,
    professor of education at Stanford University.
  • Criticism: Charles Glenn of Boston University argued the study focused
    too narrowly on language instruction and ignored more general school failures
    to educate minority students.
  • Finding: Bilingual education helps raise test scores.
  • Study: In study published in March, Jay Greene of the University of
    Texas examined the test scores of 2,700 students – more than half in bilingual
    programs – in 13 states. He found a three-month gap between students educated
    by English-immersion and bilingual methods after two years in each program.
  • Criticism: Study projected a gap in achievement, rather than basing
    it on consistent data.


  • Finding: Higher poverty and dropout rates occurred among students taught
    in bilingual education programs, compared with English-immersion programs.
  • Study: A 10-year follow-up analysis of 1982 high school graduates by
    Mark Lopez of the University of Maryland and Marie Mora of the University
    of New Mexico.
  • Criticism: University of Southern California Professor Stephen Krashen
    called the study unscientific because most of the “bilingual education”
    students were taught in English, while the nonbilingual group included
    many native English speakers.
  • Finding: English-immersion students scored higher and dropped out slightly
    less often than those in bilingual programs.
  • Study: A five-year study of students in El Paso, Texas, commissioned
    by the READ Institute, an anti-bilingual-education think tank in Amherst,
  • Criticism: The study group of 175 students was too small to draw broad
    conclusions, and the differences in achievement between English-immersion
    and bilingual students were statistically insignificant.
  • Finding: Rapid integration of English learners into mainstream classes
    is preferable to separate bilingual classes.
  • Study: 1995 analysis of New York City programs by Patricia Whitelaw-Hill,
    executive director of the READ Institute, concluded that sheltered English
    instruction and group work can accelerate academic and English progress
    simultaneously, contrary to findings of most pro-bilingual studies.
  • Criticism: Study is fundamentally flawed because it compares students
    from different backgrounds, said Hakuta of Stanford.

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