Education

Pitch for English as the National Language Includes Pitch for English Immersion

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 01, 2007 1 min read

In a commentary arguing that the United States should establish English as the national language, a couple of writers from the Heritage Foundation also claim that English immersion is more effective in schools than bilingual education. The commentary was posted today on the Tucson Citizen Web site.

In the piece, writers Matthew Spalding and Israel Ortega imply that schools should use English immersion to teach children from immigrant families. Here’s an excerpt: “The empirical data in favor of English immersion—the opposite of multilingualism—are overwhelming, with even its most vociferous opponents conceding its merits.”

Apparently as an example of a “vociferous opponent” acknowledging the merits of English immersion, the authors note that Ken Noonan (they mistakenly call him Ken Noon) publicly supported English immersion after California voters approved a ballot measure in 1998 to curtail bilingual education. He had previously been an advocate of bilingual education. The authors do not, however, cite any of the “empirical data” in favor of English immersion.

As usual, Stephen D. Krashen, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, and an advocate for bilingual education who keeps close tabs on editorials that run in newspapers about this subject, did not let the view of the Heritage Foundation writers stand uncontested. He posted a comment, saying “The empirical data is not in favor of English immersion. In fact it is ‘overwhelmingly’ in favor of bilingual education. Study after study shows that children in bilingual programs consistently do better than children in English immersion programs on tests of English reading.”

The example of Ken Noonan’s change of view has been included repeatedly in newspaper articles for eight years. Education Week first quoted him in 1999 when he was the superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District in California. For much longer than that, Mr. Krashen has been trying to set members of the public straight regarding what research says about the merits of bilingual education.

Educators, do you have examples on the ground to flesh out the claims on either side of the debate? If so, let us know what they are—and next time I write an article about this topic for Education Week, I’ll contact you.

I’d like to get some new voices into this debate.

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