“Bilingual Education Didn’t Work”

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 14, 2008 1 min read
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Roger Prosise, the superintendent of the Diamond Lake School District 76 in Mundelein, Ill., makes a compelling case for why Illinois shouldn’t mandate bilingual education in schools. And he doesn’t give the reasons that are usually given. He writes in a paper released by the Lexington Institute, a conservative think tank that generally opposes bilingual education, that “bilingual education did not work in District 76.”

Mr. Prosise says the method didn’t work because of a shortage of bilingual classroom teachers, a lack of good bilingual reading teachers, and a lack of high-quality bilingual instructional curriculum materials.

For four years District 76 has used a “sheltered English” approach for ELLs, in which students take classes with modified English and receive some support in their native languages. The district also provides an optional dual-language program. In that program, students who are dominant in English and students who are dominant in Spanish learn both languages. But the offerings still didn’t match what is required under Illinois law. When state officials found this out, they withdrew state and federal funding for the district’s ELLs. Mr. Prosise said he fought back and had the $165,000 reinstated. His campaign to do so was covered by Illinois newspapers.

I’d like to see more educators who are currently working in schools speak publicly about this issue from their on-the-ground perspective. So much of the debate over methods seems to be dominated by education professors or other folks who aren’t spending a lot of time in schools. Perhaps a method that is ideal in one school district, which has access to lots of well-educated bilingual teachers, is not so ideal in another setting.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.