How To Make Bilingual Education Work
Is bilingual instruction a good idea? Sarah Garland explores this question in an article on MSNBC.com:
“The research is mixed on whether bilingual programs in general make a difference for student achievement. When bilingual programs were prevalent in California in the 1990s, the gap between English learners and other students was wide. But research has also documented that bilingualism can benefit the brain. And done well, dual-language programs can be a key element in a school’s success, some educators and researchers say.
“It’s just absolutely incontrovertible that teaching children either by building on their primary language to get to English, or by continuing to teach them in their language that they already know while they’re learning English … has better long-term outcomes for the students,” says Patricia Gándara, an education professor at UCLA.
“There’s a lot of research now that shows that dual-immersion programs/bilingual programs are teaching kids to read better,” she added.”
Garland visits one place where bilingual education is definitely working—a school inin Baldwin Park, California:
“Ernest R. Geddes Elementary School is a noisy place. Students in older grades spend large amounts of class time talking and arguing with one another in small groups. One third-grade teacher, Pamela Ochoa, encourages the children in her group of struggling readers to get out of their chairs and dance. Kindergartners in another room interrupt stories to predict what will happen next and ask about words they don’t understand.
Often at this majority-Hispanic school, the arguments and singing that spill out of classrooms are in a mix of Spanish and English. ‘I don’t like quiet classrooms,’ says Virginia Castro, the school’s principal. ‘Learning is noisy.’
During her four-year tenure at Geddes, Castro has led the school from struggling to highly successful. In 2008, less than a third of students scored at or above proficient on the state English language arts test. In the last school year, the percentage passing more than doubled to 62 percent. The gains are even more impressive when compared to students in the rest of the state.
That same year, 97 percent of Geddes students qualified for federally subsidized lunches and 42 percent were English Language Learners.. But, while 59 percent of elementary-age students in California were proficient or above on state tests for English language arts, 62 percent of Geddes students were. In math, 67 percent of California elementary-age students were proficient or above on math tests. In the same year, the figure at Geddes was 77 percent.
Getting children talking to one another is one of the several strategies Castro and her teachers have used to close the achievement gap between their children and those in more affluent schools. The special sauce at Geddes may be its dual-language program. Classes at Geddes are taught in Spanish for 90 percent of the day until third grade, when they transition to more time spent in English.
One reason the dual-language program works at Geddes is because it’s one part of a strong academic structure, school officials say. Castro is obsessed with data: Teachers give assessments every two weeks in math and reading to see how their students are progressing and where they might need help.” Read more here.
Instead of limiting bilingual education programs by law, as legislators in California have done, they might look at successful programs like the one at Geddes to understand what works.