Research on Push-In Versus Pull-Out

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 24, 2008 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A comment by Zoe Ann about a recent blog entry on how some schools are moving toward a push-in model and away from a pull-out model for teaching English as a second language, sent me in pursuit of research on the effectiveness of either educational approach.

The answer so far (readers, tell me if I’m missing something): There’s not much out there.

With the push-in approach, ESL teachers work with ELLs in their regular classrooms; with the pull-out approach, ESL teachers work with such students in separate classrooms, whether for one period a day or a much longer time.

Two recent reviews of research on ELLs say little or nothing about push-in versus pull-out. In one of them, Educating English Language Learners, I found the following paragraph on page 187:

Fulton-Scott and Calvin (1983) found that bilingual/bicultural and integrated ESL programs in which ELLs were integrated with English-proficient students yielded higher achievement test scores and GPAs than a segregated ESL program that provided limited opportunities for ELLs to interact with English-proficient students.

I interpret this summary of a single study to mean that push-in ESL could have some advantages over pull-out ESL. Donna Christian, the president of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics and one of the authors of Educating English Language Learners, said she didn’t know of any other studies that address the issue. And Diane August, a senior research scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics, said the review of research on ELLs by the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth didn’t find any research that directly addressed the effectiveness of push-in versus pull-out.

I then placed a call to Gary Lewis, the director of student services for the Northfield School District in Minnesota, which plans to implement, on a limited basis, a push-in approach to ESL next school year. I asked him why he felt that research supports such a move, which he is quoted as saying in his local newspaper. He said he couldn’t lay his hand on a particular study that supports push-in ESL at the moment because he’d just boxed up all the documents used to support the plan for ELLs next school year and sent them to another office.

Some of the research supporting a more inclusive approach comes out of the field of special education, he noted. He said that the school district made the decision to move to a push-in approach for ELLs in the kindergarten and 1st grades and for some middle and high school ELLs (a more limited implementation than I understood initially from the Northfield News) after looking at research, reviewing handouts from conferences and workshops, reading educational journal articles, and visiting an elementary school in St. Paul, Minn., that has had success with a push-in model.

Mr. Lewis cited two books that he says have been helpful in understanding how teachers can work with ELLs in a regular classroom: One is Promoting Academic Success for E.S.L. Students: Understanding Second Language Acquisition for School, published in 1995 by Virginia P. Collier. The second one is Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom, published in 2002 by Pauline Gibbons.

In carrying out the push-in approach, Mr. Lewis said, “Everything we’ve learned is that you have to train people in co-teaching, and not everyone can co-teach.”

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