English Immersion: The Bilingual Education Debate

Thursday, February 02, 2012

In the last 15 years, California, Arizona, and Massachusetts have all replaced bilingual education with English immersion programs as a way to address the achievement gap between native and non-native speakers. Statistics show that only 11 percent of California’s English learners reached proficiency last year. How to teach new immigrants English has become an increasingly divisive debate in classrooms across the country with politicians like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich chiming in to show their support of English immersion programs.

Devin Browne is a reporter for the Fronteras Project, a multimedia collaboration focusing on the Southwestern border between the United States and Mexico, led by KJZZ in Phoenix and KPBS in San Diego. 

Professor Robert Slavin is the Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University. He co-authored a breakthrough study comparing bilingual education and English immersion.


Professor Robert Slavin

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


Devin Browne

Comments [4]

Linda Stimpson

I agree with Jennifer as well. I teach a very diverse group of children (K-5)learning English (Iraqis, Somalis, French, Russian, etc....). I'm also an intermediate speaker of French, and the children with whom I'm able to communicate in French are able to access what I'm teaching so much faster than children from the other language groups. I've taught roughly 200 kids over the past decade, many of whom are refugees, so I feel I have some basis of comparison. Several years ago, I had a teacher's aide who spoke Arabic, and again, the Arabic speaking children who had prior education in their home countries were able to make rapid progress with her help. What would normally take me a long time to demonstrate with gestures and visuals, she was able to communicate very quickly. Bilingual programs are very beneficial.

Feb. 14 2012 05:06 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, When I came to America as a 10 year old, I did not speak any English. I went to school and I learned by being with other kids and by paying attention to the teacher. My fellow students and teacher did not speak Spanish and they thought that all South American countries were alike. I found that shocking and I still do. In many ways, it offended me. They knew next to nothing about Argentina.It's not too complicated and it shouldn't be. Not all kids learn the same way, but when one is in a foreign country, it's best to learn the language and habits of that country. It's easier on the immigrant. Eugenia Renskoff

Feb. 02 2012 12:38 PM

I agree with Jennifer's comment. If you look at the numbers in California, the achievement gap between Latino students and English students is getting wider, especially in math and science area.

Feb. 02 2012 12:37 PM
Jennifer from Salt Lake City, Utah

Dr. Slavin's research included students in bilingual programs only through grade 2. There are many other studies that support high English language proficiency in bilingual programs that support learning in two languages through higher grades. If we want to speak only of reading achievement by grade two, Dr. Slavin has data that shows no difference in reading achievement based on programming. But if we want to see academic achievement in math, science, and advanced reading skills, high quality bilingual programs support higher cognitive ability and higher achievement.

Feb. 02 2012 08:07 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.