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Criticism and Praise For Obama's View on Bilingual Education


Lance T. Izumi and Bruce Fuller provide opposing opinions in the New York Times about presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama's support for bilingual education.

Mr. Izumi argues that English immersion works better than bilingual education, citing the success of a single elementary charter school in Los Angeles County. (I've written on this blog before about Mr. Izumi's preference for English-immersion methods.) Mr. Izumi is the senior director of education studies for the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.

Mr. Fuller says bilingual education can work well, if the teachers who carry it out are well-prepared to do so. Mr. Fuller notes that a review of research concerning the teaching of literacy to English-language learners favors bilingual education. Mr. Fuller is the director of the Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent policy research center based at University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

By the way, I've been trying since the Republican National Convention to get an answer to what Republican leaders mean when they say in their platform that "we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students' future potential." I've sent e-mail requests umpteen times requesting clarification and left voice mail messages several times for press officers with the Republican Committee. Still, no one has responded with further clarification.


Bilingual education can be important and research says that it is the most effective way of learning English. My guess about the way many people feel about Bilingual education is that it is almost always done in poverty stricken areas which bring educational standards down considerably so people don't see effectiveness and results. The programs are almost exclusively done in Spanish. We need to get rid of the rules saying that Bilingual education isn't required unless one school has 20 students or more in the same grade. That causes schools to group these kids in one school or in a few schools (and I guarantee they are not the best the school districts have to offer) and they are often isolated from native speakers or native speakers who might actually be studious and accomplishing something. I don't see why there can't be intinerant bilingual teachers as there are ESOL teachers and that they be able to reach a wider population of students. Using English only sounds good if you don't understand language acquisition and are afraid of large groups of language minorities. Having access to their language is important to kids and books in their native language is important too. We are not allowing it and it impedes comprehension and learning.
I do have to admit that the Bilingual education program near me has a reputation for being awful and that it has the lowest graduation rate of any program. It is not because the staff are "bad". I think it does have something to do with the poverty in the school district, the true isolation Bilingual students grow up with in bilingual programs - they become more fearful of others in the school, communicate with each other more and have less access to the outside world. These are issues the researchers on Bilingual education tend to try to ignore or explain away. They don't research it as far as I can see but it is seen by others. The outside groups have the same reaction to the bilingual kids. Being "mainstreamed" in lunch, gym and art doesn't count for much. There is very little interaction going on that isn't impeded by a class and kids tend to sit with those they know and relate to in lunch. We need to break Bilingual education out of the ghetto into the mainstream and find a method that isn't so binding one way or another. There needs to be more languages and students included.

Successful transitional bilingual programs exist nationwide, but rarely receive the attention they deserve. We have been locked into a one-size-fits-all test-driven philosophy for too long now. To exclude "one" program model and promote "one" other based on opinions that ignore documented successes, to avoid adequate analysis of weak implementation of research-based models, and refuse to involve stakeholders in a process that affect student outcomes are among the fundamental changes that need to occur. The debate over bilingual education is ideological and as a nation is not productive. It is time to address adequate implementation of programs serving ELLs. Put the focus back on the kids.

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