Bilingual Ed Beneficial in Early Grades

Published April 1, 1998

Students with Limited-English Proficiency who are taught using at least some of their native language perform significantly better on English-language standardized tests than similar children taught in English-only programs, according to a new study from the Claremont, California-based Tómas Rivera Policy Institute. By the end of second grade, students who began school in bilingual education programs perform as if they had been in school three months longer than those students who began in English-only programs.

“The research clearly indicates that bilingual education is an effective approach that should be available to both parents and children in California and elsewhere,” said Jay Greene, Institute scholar and assistant professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin, who conducted the study.

Bilingual schooling faces a big test in California on June 2, when voters will consider a ballot initiative to abolish the program for elementary students. The initiative provides that non-English-speaking children would not receive instruction in their native language, but would be mainstreamed after a year of English immersion. (See “Battle Looms Over Bilingual Ed,” School Reform News, October 1997.)

Greene conducted the study, “A Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Bilingual Education,” in collaboration with the Public Policy Clinic of the University of Texas’ Government Department, and Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

“I was impressed by the fact that every random assignment bilingual study showed a positive effect,” said Greene, noting that random assignment is commonly used to determine the efficacy of new drugs. “In this case, the pill is the native language instruction and the placebo is English-only instruction,” he added.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].