Study Says Bilingual Education Works

WASHINGTON—Bilingual education programs help Spanish-speaking children excel in school, according to a study released Monday by the Education Department.

The study found that Spanish-speaking students in bilingual classes grew academically as fast as students in the general student population. But it also found that most of the teachers were not as effective as they should be. The study was conducted by Aguirre International of San Mateo, Calif.

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

Bilingual education programs help children who speak very little English learn the language so that they can enter regular classrooms.

After years of controversy over how to teach English to immigrant children, Congress decided the federal government should support a variety of education programs. The programs range from ones that make varying use of the student’s native language to others that rely on English, with clarifications given in the native language.

Bilingual teachers are expected to know the native language well enough to understand student questions and clarify instructions. Teachers also are trained to teach English as a second language.

The study was conducted over a four-year period, during school years 1984-85 to 1987-88, on about 2,000 Spanish-speaking students participating in three types of programs in California, Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey.

“Limited English proficient students in all three instructional programs improved their skills in mathematics, English language, and reading as fast as or faster than students in the general population,” said the study.

Statistical or numerical estimates were not provided.

“Providing substantial instruction in the child’s primary language does not impede the learning of English or reading skills. On the other hand, providing a limited English proficient student with English only instruction through grade three … is as effective,” said the study.

The study cautioned against abruptly transferring students from an instructional program offered mainly in their primary language into a program that provides almost all instruction in English.

The study criticized the teaching methods used in all three programs studied. Most of the teachers did all of the talking in classrooms and required students to provide only simple information recall statements in response to simple discrete close-ended questions.

“There is a need to improve the quality of training programs for teachers serving language-minority students, both at the university and school district levels, so that they can provide a more active learning environment for language and cognitive skill development,” the study said.

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