With the abundance of immigrants coming into the United States daily, it is fairly important to provide an educational environment which addresses the needs of bi-lingual students. This is also partly due to the number of students in the U.S. who are natives, yet are fully immersed in another culture in which they speak a foreign language better than or more frequently than they speak English. In attempting to close the achievement gap for these students vs. native English language speakers, it is actually beneficial to involve not only these English as a second language students but also native English speakers to most efficaciously accomplish this task. A pair of graphs listed below provides longitudinal evidence to support this assertion.
In order to correctly interpret the graph in Figure 1 of “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Education for All” written by Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas (7) and to see its relevance to close the achievement gap between English as a second language learners and native English speakers, readers must understand the three categories of educational programs tested. Transitional Bilingual Education strictly involves non-Native English speakers. Developmental Bilingual Education involves both native and non-native English speakers and only teaches one language, while two-way Bilingual Immersion involves both types of students teaches both Spanish and English.
The results indicate that students consistently tested at the highest levels in the immersion class, while learning two languages. It is necessary to explain the significance of the fact that all of these classes are 90:10 classes. These classes start out teaching the bulk of the material in the non-native language (which was typically Spanish in the particular Houston school district this research was conducted at) in the lower grades, before gradually reaching a 50% instruction in English and in the non-native language in the 5th grade. Therefore, it is significant that the later grade levels, particularly the fifth graders, demonstrated higher testing scores.
The graph on figure 2 of Collier and Thomas’ article (p. 8) also attests to the efficacy of two way immersion classes, perhaps even more so than the first graph. This is primarily due to the fact that there is a greater disparity in the average test scores for students who were enrolled in these classes, versus those that are not. Furthermore, since the learning of English is the principle objective for dual language learners, this graph attests to the value in students enrolling in two way immersion courses in which they learn both Spanish and English.
Another fact that this second graph alludes to, and which is noted in comparison efforts with the first graph, is that there is a relationship between achievement in Spanish and achievement in English. This is particularly true for non-native English speakers. Learning basic fundamental aspects of their own language naturally correlates to a greater understanding of these fundamental concepts in a foreign language. All too often, non-native English speakers may be fluent in another language, and still lack the essential knowledge of the standards in that language. These graphs suggest that by teaching fundamentals in one language, students can better master those same concepts in another.
In conclusion, one of the most effective means of closing the achievement gap between native English speakers and non-natives is to implement two-way immersion classes. The principle distinction between a two-way class and a one way class is that the former allows for native English speakers to enroll in them. This allows for a degree of student expertise in English even at the youngest grade levels. These students inevitably help the others, in much the same way that the other students help these native English speakers master a non-native language (such as Spanish).
Collier, V.P, Thomas, W.P. (2004). “The astounding effectiveness of dual education for all.” NABE Journal of Research and Practice. 2:1.
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