English-Language Learners

Tailor Bilingual Ed. to School Needs, Calif. Study Says

By Peter Schmidt — March 04, 1992 4 min read

Local educators should stop arguing about the one best approach to educating language minorities and instead focus on tailoring programs to fit the needs of their own schools, a study released by the California education department last week urges.

The study, which examined how five basic approaches to educating limited-English-proficient students were used in several California schools, found that few exemplary programs could be easily categorized as following one approach or another.

Some programs used a combination of approaches, while others used the same approach in different ways, the study indicates, adding that a lack of reliable testing data prevented reliable comparisons between the programs.

“Our research suggests that, rather than asking which model is superior, local people should identify those conditions under which one or some combination of approaches are best suited and then adapt the models to match their particular circumstances,’' the study concludes.

Some bilingual-education experts heralded the California study as lending support to a U.S. Education Department study issued last year that found that each of the three most common bilingual-education methods was effective with Spanish-speaking children, even though the programs use varying amounts of English and Spanish. (See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1991.)

Federal officials have expressed hope that those findings would help quell the debate over whether to provide L.E.P. students with instruction in English or in their native tongue.

The authors of the California study reached similar conclusions, asserting that a variety of educational methods may be needed in California because of its ethnic diversity.

Benefits, Drawbacks Found

The California study, which was requested by the legislature, was conducted by B.W. Associates of Berkeley, in collaboration with the University of California at Santa Cruz and the American Institutes for Research.

The two-year study gathered and analyzed statewide data on schools serving L.E.P. students. After examining 200 programs described by various educators as well-implemented, researchers extensively studied 15 elementary schools considered to exemplify the five basic approaches to educating L.E.P. students.

Two of the approaches studied were heavily dependent on English. They were English-as-a-second-language “pull out” programs, in which students take mainstream content classes but are removed for special classes in English, and sheltered-English classes, in which L.E.P. students are provided both content and E.S.L. instruction in a self-contained classroom where teachers try to use English the students can understand.

The three approaches under study that relied heavily on the native language were bilingual late exit, in which pupils are expected to achieve literacy in their native language before moving to mainstream classes; bilingual early exit, in which pupils are not expected to become literate in their native language and make an earlier transition; and double immersion, in which native English-speaking students and L.E.P. students receive instruction in both languages.

The study found positive and negative aspects to each of the approaches.

Programs that heavily used English, for example, were credited with providing for the best use of staff in schools with diverse or rapidly changing populations of L.E.P. children or shortages of bilingual and multilingual teachers.

On the other hand, the study contends, E.S.L. pull-out programs often failed to provide any coordination between the E.S.L. classes and the content classes and left L.E.P. students vulnerable to falling behind in mainstream classes.

Sheltered-English classes, moreover, were prone to low expectations and overly simplified curriculum, the study maintains.

Similarly, the study praises bilingual approaches for helping develop native-language skills as a solid foundation for language development and encouraging children to communicate with their parents.

But the study also warns that early-exit programs may not develop native-language skills enough to allow them to be transferred to English. In addition, researchers found that late-exit and double-immersion programs often suffered as a result of the transience of L.E.P. students.

Funding Concerns

The study notes that few of the 200 programs considered had all the elements of a well-implemented program, such as credentialed teachers, clear goals, and mechanisms for measuring outcomes. The implementation of various approaches, the study says, probably had more bearing on their success than the validity of the approaches themselves.

The study also points out that the only programs for L.E.P. students that appeared to cost more than mainstream classes were E.S.L. pull-out and double immersion, which extensively use resource teachers. Since, the study argues, all L.E.P. programs should cost more that regular programs, the findings raise “serious concerns” about the adequacy of their funding.

The researchers also examined 27 high schools cited as having exemplary programs and found that only 6 offered L.E.P. students the full curriculum they needed to graduate.

A version of this article appeared in the March 04, 1992 edition of Education Week as Tailor Bilingual Ed. to School Needs, Calif. Study Says

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