Bilingual Education Vs. All-English: A comparative study on the effectiveness of dual language programs and English as a new language
College of Staten Island
Should students who are learning English spend the school day in classes where only English is spoken? Or should they be taught reading, writing, and other academic skills and content in their native language? These are important questions, and anyone who can provide a quick answer is surely oversimplifying the issues. Some English language learners (ELLs) do not speak a word of English, and there are ELL students who are not literate in their native language either. In classes where only English is spoken, an ELL student is required to learn content just like everyone else is, and in addition, to learn a new language- English. Moreover, it is not sufficient to learn English so they can communicate with their friends and teacher. They have to learn what is called “academic English,” a term that refers to more abstract, complex, and challenging language that will eventually permit them to participate successfully in mainstream classroom instruction.
All-English and dual language programs are two different ways to help school-age children who have immigrated to an English-speaking country, learn English. The question which of the two is more helpful has been filled with controversy for decades. The main difference between English only and dual language programs is the language of instruction. In an English only class, students are taught purely using the English language. Conversely, in a dual language class, the teachers take turns giving instruction in both, English and the students’ native language. Proponents of English only instruction worry that bilingual education may sacrifice knowledge of English for knowledge of a second language. They maintain that the best way for students to become proficient in English is to become immersed in the English language in an all English classroom , so in this way ELL students will have more exposure to the targeted language. In contrary, proponents of bilingual education, or dual language programs, maintain that the English abilities of students in a bilingual classroom are enhanced because they learn to translate between the two languages more easily. In addition, they become more literate in their home language and English simultaneously.
An important factor in deciding whether bilingual programs are more effective than all-English programs in raising student academic achievement. With new research showing the cognitive benefits of obtaining bilingualism, an increasingly global society offering greater economic opportunities for those who can speak more than one language, and the U.S. population becoming more diverse, supporters of bilingual education say that their programs are the best choice for meeting the needs of the population today and in the future (Krashen, 2007; Thomas & Collier, 2002).
Study after study have reported that children in bilingual programs typically outperform their counterparts in all-English programs on tests of academic achievement in English. Or, at worst, they do just as well (Krashen & McField, 2005). Reviews of literature have concluded that bilingual education is more effective than all-English programs in helping children to acquire English and to progress academically (Cummins, 1983; Krashen, 1996, p.7). They also point out that students will be able to understand the other subjects that are being taught in the classroom, whereas students in an English only classroom are often unable to comprehend even the most basic of lessons for a long period of time. This is especially true for ELL students in the early levels of English proficiency, who need to understand the essence of what is being said or taught. In the beginning of their language acquirement these students need what Krashen calls “comprehensible input.” Comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by listeners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it. It is described as one level above that of the learners if it can only just be understood. As Krashen declares, “comprehensible input’ is the crucial and necessary ingredient for the acquisition of language” (1983, p.18). Being in an environment where only English is spoken, impedes the students’ ability to acquire a new language.
In 2006, The National Literacy Panel (NPL) and the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) completed a meta-analysis of research on educating English learners. According to the United Federation of Teachers’ (UFT) quarterly journal, American Educator (Summer, 2008) the above-mentioned reviews represent “the most concerted efforts to date to identify the best knowledge available, and set the stage for renewed efforts to find effective approaches to help English learners succeed in school”(p.11). In this meta-analyses NPL and CREDE compared reading instruction in dual language classes that used both students’first and second language, and all English classes. The analysis concluded that teaching ELLs to read in their first language and then in their second language, or in their first and second languages simultaneously (at different times during the day), compared with teaching them to read in their second language only, boosts their reading achievement in the second language. Additionally, teaching students to read in their first language promotes higher levels of reading achievement in English. The NLP and CREDE were the latest of five meta- analyses that reached the same conclusion: learning to read in the home language promotes reading achievement in the second language. All five studies found positive effects of bilingual education on students’ reading achievement on various measures of reading in English. Primary language reading instruction develops first language skills, promotes reading in English, and can be carried out as children are also learning to read, and learning other academic content, in English (American Educator, 2008, p.14).
In a meta-analysis study, Rolstad, Mahoney, and Glass (2005), examined the dual language program effectiveness on ELL using 17 studies. These studies showed that “bilingual education is consistently superior to all-English approaches” (Rolstad, Mahoney, Glass, 2005, p.590). In addition the meta-analysis of studies, controlling for English-language-learner status, indicates“a positive effect for bilingual education of .23 standard deviations, with outcome measures in the native language showing a positive effect of .86 standard deviations”( p.590). Rolstad, Mahoney, and Glass (2005) suggest that bilingual education programs are effective in promoting academic achievement and that sound educational policy should permit and even encourage the development and implementation of bilingual education programs (2005, p. 572). They conclude the study with some strong declarations regarding Bilingual education in the United States. They declare that,“states which ban or greatly discourage the use of the native language for instructional purposes, cannot be justified” (2005, p. 590). Furthermore, the tendency of federal policies embedded in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to emulate these restrictive policies by emphasizing rapid transition to English is also ill advised. Instead, a rational educational policy, unencumbered by politics and ideology, should at least permit, and at best encourage, the development and implementation of bilingual education approaches in all U.S. schools serving ELLs (Rolstad, Mahoney, and Glass, 2005, p. 590).
“The more children develop their first language, the more successful they will be in academic achievement in English by the end of their school years” (Billitteri et al., 2009 p.134). The national school boards group agrees on the advantages of students’ home language instruction for English learners. ELL students with formal schooling in their first language tend to acquire English proficiency faster than their peers without it. The research shows very clearly that the longer we can give ELL students support in their language, the better they’re going to do not just in elementary school, but in secondary school as well” (Billitteri et al.,2009 p.134).
Nagai (2002), claims that bilingual education in the United States is perceived by many as a costly privilege or as a remedy for minorities only. He believes that this mindset precludes many U.S. parents and educators from realizing the far-reaching benefits of bilingual education for all children, including native speakers of English. Multilingualism is becoming increasingly important because of the growing diversity within the United States and the expanding international connections. Dual language education benefits not only immigrants but all children regardless of social economic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds as its benefits are universal. For society, inclusive bilingual education strengthens the country externally and locally. For children, bilingual education enhances intellectual growth and interpersonal-and intercultural communication competence. In addition to all these benefits, bilingual education provides ELL students with a more positive educational experience and higher academic achievement. Finally, “bilingual education should be provided to citizens living in every corner of the country, including small towns” (Ngai, 2002 p.19).
Steele et al. (2016) examines the effects of dual language programs on students’ test scores in reading, mathematic, and science. They estimated positive intent- to-treat (ITT) effects on reading performance in fifth and eighth grades, ranging from 13% to 22% of a standard deviation, reflecting 7 to 9 months of learning. They found little benefit in terms of mathematics and science performance but also no detriment. Steel et al. (2016) admit, “Though effects in mathematics and science are less evident, a program that yields improved reading in English, improved long-term exit rates from EL status, and no apparent detriment to mathematics and science skills—all while promoting proficiency in two languages—seems difficult to criticize. If schools can prepare multilingual citizens while enhancing students’ reading skills in English, then it is conceivable that expanding access to language immersion from early childhood could become the next frontier in the struggle for educational opportunity in 21st-century America” (Steel et al., 20016, p. 303).
Thomas and Collier (2006) assert that, “Dual language learning has been found to be the only method of second language acquisition to facilitate the full closure of the achievement gap between English learners and English speakers in primary and secondary education” (p. 5). Strictly structured and well-implemented dual language instruction across all subjects of the curriculum provides all students the opportunity to develop a deep academic proficiency in two languages, which will give them the tools to become highly-sought-after bilingual professionals in today’s more globalized world (Thomas and Collier,2006, p.7).
Findings by Abutalebi and Green (2008) and Calvo and Bialystok (2013) suggest that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on cognitive tasks that require ignoring irrelevant information, task switching, and resolving conflict. According to Thomas and Collier (2003), in many states dual-language programs are providing win-win advantages for all students. English learners have an opportunity to make faster-than-average progress on grade-level instruction that is not watered down. Native English speakers who are already on grade level can exceed the achievement of their monolingually educated peers. And through the cognitive stimulus of schooling in two languages, which leads to enhanced creativity and analytical thinking, native English speakers who are lagging behind academically receive the accelerated instruction necessary to close the achievement gap between the native speakers and language learners (Thomas and Collier, 2003, p.61).
While reviewing literature on the effects of bilingual education, it is suggested that the next major step for researchers to take is to produce the next generation of bilingual education researchers who will conduct program evaluation research, to refine what particular forms of dual language programs are most effective. As more and more dual language schools develop, many variations in implementation are evolving. Evolution of the model may lead to even higher achievement, but researchers may also identify less effective forms of implementation. It is time for researchers to join with educators in collaborative efforts to point out specific benefits of bilingual education.
Prior to starting my graduate studies in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) I was unaware of the benefits of bilingualism and dual language programs. I am bilingual, and I always saw this fact as an obstacle in my schooling career in the United States. My viewpoint prevented me from introducing my children to my language as I was speaking to them only in English, completely segregating them from learning my home language. My viewpoint and opinion on this issue changed as I was completing my masters degree in the TESOL program. The first classes in the TESOL program spoke in detail about language acquisition, bilingualism and its benefits. Completing these courses made me realized how privileged I was to speak other languages, and what a mistake I had made by not speaking to my children in my home language. I was completely unaware that bilingual education was even a choice offered to ELL students.
As semesters went by I was becoming more knowledgeable about the student population I was going to teach, English Language Learners. I remember reading an article that talked about how immigrant parents feel overwhelmed and want their children to learn English as soon as possible even if this causes their children to forget their home language. As a TESOL teacher I try to convince parents to speak to their children in their home language and have them attend the dual language program if their schools offer it. This is how the idea for this study transpired. I would like to examine and compare the effects of dual language programs and English as a New Language in ELL students’ academic achievement in reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Data will be collected from a public school in Port Richmond area of Staten Island, New York. The school has welcomed little over 600 students. The student population is very diverse, 59 % of the students come from Hispanic background, 22% are African American, 12 % of the students are white and 5% are Asian. The majority of the students, 96% come from low-income families; a little over a quarter of the student population, 27%, is English Language Learners. This school was chosen for this study because it offers dual language and ESL programs for its ELL students. The participants of this study include twenty ELL students in the 4th grade who are participants of the dual language program, and twenty ELL students in the 4th grade who are participants of the ESL program. The dual language program students were of Hispanic background, Spanish was their first language. The majority of students in the ESL program had Spanish as their first language and 5 students had Cantonese and Urdu as their first language.
Students’ achievement in listening, speaking, reading, and writing was measured by their performance on the state mandated test NYSESLAT the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test. This test is administered annually in grades K-12. The test is administered solely in English. The NYSESLAT has five grade bands: Kindergarten −1, grade 2−4, grade 5−6, grade 7−8 and 9−12. It assesses students speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, defined by New York State’s English as a Second Language Learning Standards. The speaking section is administered individually and asks students to respond to a word or statement read aloud or to a picture. The other sections can be administered to students in a group. The reading section asks students to answer questions about stories printed in their test books. The writing section asks students to write in response to questions and prompts in their test books. The listening section asks students to select the correct response to a picture and/or word or statement read aloud. The participating students’ NYSESLAT scores will be used to examine the impact of dual language programs on students’ English language acquirement in four modalities, listening speaking, reading, and writing. The data of three consecutive years, 2015, 2016, 2017 was collected in the four modalities listening speaking reading and writing and also the cumulative score for all the modalities the students received each year. The scores of the twenty-participating student in the ESL program were compared to the scores of the twenty participating students in the dual language program. this was achieved by using a statistics software called SPSS.
Results and Interpretation
To facilitate interpretation, the results are presented in tables 1through 4. The results of the study show no evidence of statistically significant estimates throughout the four modalities, listening, speaking, reading and writing and the cumulative score throughout the three years. Nonetheless, there were some pronounced trends significant to address. As far as the listening modality, the mean for the students in the ESL program in the year of 2015 is 11.5, then in 2016 it increased to 13.7, and lastly, in 2017 the mean of listening for the students in the ESL program was 15.5. In contrast, students in the bilingual programs scored a mean of 16 in the year of 2015. The mean was increased marginally in the nets two years to 16.3 (see Table 1).
As noted on the results, the scores acquired by the students in the ESL program showed a quite significant growth in the listening part of the assessment, over the period of three years. They experienced an increase of 2.2 points from 2015 to 2016, and then an increase of 1.8 from 2016 to 2017. On the other hand, the students in the bilingual program did not have a significate increase in their scores throughout the three years, with a listening mean ranging from 16.0 to 16.3. However, it is important to note that they still outperformed their peers in the ESL program for three years in a row.
On the speaking part of the NYSESLAT assessment, between the years of 2015 and 2016, the students in the ESL program scored a mean of 16.2 and then 16. In 2017, they had a considerably rapid raise scoring a mean of 19.5. Conversely, students in the bilingual program showed a slight growth, similar increase they acquired in the listening part of the assessment. Their mean of listening throughout the three-year span increased slightly from 17.5 to 18 points (see Table 2).
As indicated above between 2015 and 2016 there was a slight decrease, 0.2 points in the first two years for the students in the ESL program, in the speaking part of the assessment. The students experienced rapid increase of 3.5 points in 2017. Participating students in the bilingual program showed no fall in their scores, in contrast, they exhibited continuous growth in speaking throughout the span of the three years. When compared to the students in the ESL program, they scored 1.5 points lower in 2017. Nevertheless, in the year of 2015 they scored 1.3 points higher, and in 2016 1.8 points higher than their counterparts in the ESL program. These scores indicate that the students in the dual language program were actually keeping up with their counterparts in the ESL program, since they reached higher mean scores for two years in a row.
In the reading section of the test there are some interesting trends that were observed. The scores of the students in the bilingual program showed a great increase in the course of three years, as compared to the students in the ESL program. The students in the bilingual program scored a mean of 13 in 2015, this was then further increased in 2016 to 16, and then in 2017 the mean of the reading assessment increased to 18. In contrary, students in the ESL program started with a mean of reading 14.5 in 2015. They experienced a rapid fall in 2016 scoring 12.8 mean of reading. Additionally, they experienced a quick increase in 2017, scoring a mean of 19 (see Table 3).
As noted in the results the students in the bilingual program scored a mean of 13 in 2015, in reading, this was then further increased in 2016 to 16 and then in 2017 the mean of reading increased to 18. The increase of 3 points in two years in a row and 2 points in the last year shows that the dual language program is considerably effective when it comes to teaching ELL students reading skills in their second language, bearing in mind the fact that these students were also learning to read in their home language. As the National Literacy Panel (NPL) and the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) assert, “Teaching students to read in their first language promotes higher levels of reading achievement in English” (2006, p.11).
Even though the results of the study were not able to achieve the desired outcome it is still safe to say that “a program that yields improved reading in English, improved long-term exit rates from EL status, all while promoting proficiency in two languages—seems difficult to criticize” (Steel et al., 2016, p. 303). Moreover, Teaching ELLs to read in their first language and then in their second language, or in their first and second languages simultaneously (at different times during the day), compared with teaching them to read in their second language only, boosts their reading achievement in the second language. The results of this study demonstrate the effectives of the dual language program in teaching language learners reading in English.
In the writing part of the NYSESLAT, students in the ESL program scored a mean of 8.8, in 2015. They faced a drastic fall in 2016 when they scored a mean of 5.4. points. In 2017 the scores were increased, they scored a mean of 7.2. points. On the contrary, the students in the bilingual program experienced a gradual increase. The mean was of 4.1 in 2015 and then 6 in 2016 and finally 7.2 in 2017 (see Table 4).
As pointed out, the students in the ESL program experienced a drastic fall in 2016, dropping their mean score for 3.4 points. Later, they experienced an increase in their mean score of 1.8 in 2017. Participating students on the bilingual program experienced an increase of 1.9 points from 2015 to 2016, and then an additional increase of 1.2 points in 2017. As noted in the results in 2016 the bilingual students outperformed their peers in the ESL program with a mean of .6 points higher. Later, they caught up with them in 2017 by scoring a mean of 7.2.
The mean of the cumulative score the students in the ESL program was 51 for the year 2015. In 2016 the mean dropped to 48 and increased to 61 in 2017. The mean of the cumulative score of the students in the bilingual program had a steady increase. They mean for 2015 was 50, for 2016 was 56 and then for 2017 the mean was 58.8. A noteworthy trend in the assessment results of the NYSESLAT’s four modalities was noted. When compared to the students in the ESL program, the dual language program students’ mean, even though statistically not significant, it always showed an increase in all areas, listening, speaking, riding and writing, and also their cumulative score throughout all three years.
Limitations of the Study
Although this research was carefully prepared, I am still aware of its limitations and shortcomings. The sample size might have been the first limitation that might have hindered the results. The twenty participating students from the dual language program and the twenty students form the ESL program were representatives of an ELL population that is much larger. The sample students’ cultural and language background was not very diverse since the majority of student population in that area was of Hispanic background. How can one cultural or ethnic group represent such a diverse student population?
Moreover, the study was conducted on a small size population due to the limited number of students I was able to find in each grade. The only grade that had the biggest number on students, in the ESL and dual language program simultaneously, was the 4th grade, so the options were very limited. In addition, the fact that I needed the data of three consecutive years limited me from using the younger grades.
Another limitation that I came across after I conducted the study was the fact that the school chosen for the study was rated below average in school quality compared to other schools in the state. Students in the school the participating students of this study attended perform below average on state tests. Additionally, this school has below average results in how well it’s serving disadvantaged students. This fact makes me question if the participating students of this study have received the necessary services the school claimed to provide over the years. In conclusion, the fact that 96% of the students in the school come from low income families can be another limitation. This might hinder the results since the students in the low-income families face so many challenges daily that might result in poor academic performance of these students. According to Kainuwa and Yusuf, socio-economic status can have a negative effect on students’ performance in school. They claim, “Low parental income can have a large effect on the psychological state of the child, which in turn can lead to issues such as low concentration, frustration, sickness, emotional disability, and low perception. These issues usually lead to poor academic performance and drop out” (2013, p.7).
This study and similar past studies, in the area of bilingual and all-English education, are very important to students, parents, and teachers. As I had mentioned earlier, parents are unaware of the benefits of bilingualism. The study sheds light that after all, the dual language programs are effective, and even if they are slightly less effective than the All- English program. As Thomas and Collier claim “two languages are better than one” in the end, they come out with a whole extra skill they wouldn’t otherwise have it. I believe that we can all agree that the altitude towards people speaking another language has shifted to a more positive direction. People have started to realize that multilingualism is a necessary good in our increasingly globalized world. As a former ELL student, and as present bilingual educator, I can confidently say that over the period of 12 years I have experienced this shift in attitude as I am always reminded how lucky am I to speak more than one language. as I work with parents of ELL students I advocate bilingualism and the benefits of it. I see a shift in the parents’ altitudes towards their own language which they would see as an obstacle, an interference, that hindered their child’s academic and intellectual development. As educators, “when children lose their home language skills, we have a serious problem, fractured communities are created when families can no longer talk on a deep level about issues that matter (Anderson, 2015, p.4). When child’s first language isn’t taught it hinders their ability to communicate.
Since most bilingual classes take place in underfunded school districts, adding to the difficulty of assessing their effectiveness. For future research, I suggest that more though and efforts should be put in controlling factors that might interfere with the results such as; rates of poverty, teacher training, school climate etc. As more and more dual language schools develop, many variations in implementation are evolving. Evolution of the model may lead to even higher achievement, but researchers may also identify less effective forms of implementation. collaborative efforts by researchers should gear towards the identification of more specific and detailed benefits of bilingual education in comparison to all-English education.
Table 1: The mean scores of the listening modality
|Modality||Program||Year 2015||Year 2016||Year 2017|
|Listening||Dual Language Program||16||16.2||16.3|
Table 2: The mean scores of the speaking modality
|Modality||Program||Year 2015||Year 2016||Year 2017|
|Speaking||Dual Language Program||17.5||17.8||18|
Table 3: The mean scores of the reading modality
|Modality||Program||Year 2015||Year 2016||Year 2017|
|Reading||Dual Language Program||14.5||12.8||19|
Table 4: The mean scores of the writing modality
|Modality||Program||Year 2015||Year 2016||Year 2017|
|Writing||Dual Language Program||4.1||6||7.1|
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