‘Research’ Is Inconclusive on High Schoolers

Published April 1, 1998

After three years of research and at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a major U.S. Department of Education study of how to teach Limited-English Proficient high school students fails to pass judgment on which programs work and which don’t. In some states, up to one-third of the LEP student population is high school students.

Teacher-educator Kevin Clark contends that the failure of bilingual programs at the high school level may be the result of misdirecting into those programs students who don’t belong there. The General Accounting Office reports that nearly three out of five LEP students in U.S. schools, or 57 percent, are not immigrants but are native-born. Clark, along with other writers, raises credible concerns that this large population of students, “born on the U.S. mainland but sitting in bilingual classrooms,” may have been misclassified.

“Whatever the reason,” Clark notes, “high schools find themselves dealing with an ever-increasing number of students born here but whose linguistic profile resembles that of a limited English proficient student.”

Although most LEP research has focused on elementary school students, high school LEP students face even greater problems. While adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, and doing school work in the second language, they often are pressured by alternatives to schooling, such as taking a job or joining a gang. Spanish speakers aged 16-24, for example, have the highest school dropout rate of any minority group.

An executive summary of Kevin Clark’s paper, “How Can Language Minority High School Students Best Learn English?” is available from the READ Institute, P.O. Box 2428, Amherst, MA 01004-2428, telephone 413/256-0034.