Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion

December 11, 2009 • Volume 19, Issue 43
Which is better for students with limited English?
By Kenneth Jost


A first-grader reads a book in Spanish (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
First-grader Kasandra Herrera reads a book in Spanish in her dual-language classroom in Dodge City, Kan., where the Hispanic population has increased dramatically in recent years. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

More than 5 million public school students have limited English proficiency, and the number is growing. Most English learners enter school behind fluent English speakers, and many never catch up either in language or other academic areas. In the 1960s and '70s, the federal government supported bilingual education: teaching English learners in both their native language and in English. A backlash developed in the 1980s and '90s among critics who attacked bilingual education as academically ineffective and politically divisive. They favored instead some form of “English immersion.” Educators and policy makers continue to wage bitter debates on the issue, with each of the opposing camps claiming that research studies support its position. Some experts say the debate should focus instead on providing more resources, including more and better-trained teachers.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Bilingual Education and ESL
Dec. 11, 2009  Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion
Nov. 17, 2000  Future of Language
Jan. 19, 1996  Debate Over Bilingualism
Aug. 13, 1993  Bilingual Education
Mar. 11, 1988  Bilingual Education: Does It Work?
Sep. 19, 1980  Foreign Languages: Tongue-Tied Americans
Aug. 19, 1977  Bilingual Education
Sep. 24, 1958  Foreign Language Study
Bilingual and Multicultural Education