Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Bilingual Guides

November 28, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Two recent U.S. Department of Education-funded efforts to help practitioners derive practical conclusions from the research on English-language learners are silent on the language of instruction (“Guides Avoid Bilingual vs. English-Only Issue,” Nov. 8, 2006).

The reasoning offered by participating researchers is bizarre. The director of one group is paraphrased in your article as saying he avoided the topic in part because “it is political and has polarized the field.” Another is quoted as saying that this avoidance is “not because it’s not an important topic, … but because it tends to dominate all discussions.” A panelist, also quoted, said it was because “a majority of English-language learners in the country received instruction in English.”

The most obvious question is whether the reports’ authors believe we should try to build practice on a research foundation, or simply pick and choose according to taste or preference.

Five separate meta-analyses have reached the same conclusion about reading instruction in the home language: Teaching a child to read in his or her first language (referred to as L1) has a positive effect on reading achievement in the second language (L2). Yes, that’s right: Learning to read in one language helps children learn to read in a second language.

The beneficial effects of L1 instruction on L2 achievement are some of the strongest, most data-based conclusions in the field of language-minority education. The effects are modest, to be sure, and there are many other important instructional issues that merit attention. The Education Department’s reports do a credible job of identifying many of these, which is very important since L1 instruction is simply not an option for many English-learners. We must push ahead on all possible fronts.

But on what grounds do the authors of these reports choose to ignore the L1 part of the research base?

This is a grave disservice to the field and once again highlights why we keep running into trouble on the so-called bilingual education question. Proponents of primary-language instruction tend to overstate its beneficial effects, while skeptics simply ignore the issue and apparently wish the relevant research would just go away. Neither perspective will help us see our way through this complex thicket.

If researchers can’t handle the issue forthrightly, then it is up to the Education Department—that is, if it is serious about “scientifically based practice”—to insist that the reports it commissions deal with the research on its merits. Researchers funded by the government to derive research-based implications for practitioners should not be allowed to duck the tough questions because they are political, unpopular, not widely used, or merely inconvenient. It is simply not right.

Claude Goldenberg

Executive Director

Center for Language Minority Education and Research

California State University-Long Beach

Long Beach, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Bilingual Guides


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP