Fall 1998 - Volume I, Issue 3
In 1996, Christine
Rossell and Keith Baker published a review of research studies which they
claimed addressed the effectiveness of bilingual education. (Rossell &
Baker, 1996). Their findings looked impressive and are frequently cited by
opponents of bilingual education. For example, they claimed that in ten studies
comparing transitional bilingual education (TBE) with Structured Immersion in
reading performance, no difference was found in 17% and Structured Immersion was
superior in 83%. However, when we look at these research studies more closely,
it turns out that 90% actually demonstrate the effectiveness of bilingual and
even trilingual education.
Seven of the ten studies which Rossell and
Baker claim support structured immersion over TBE were studies of French
immersion programs in Canada. Typically, in these programs English-speaking
students are "immersed" in French (their second language [L2]) in kindergarten
and grade 1 and English (L1) language arts are introduced in grade 2. The
proportion of English instruction increases to about 50% by grade 5. The closest
equivalent to the program in the United States is dual language immersion which
has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness for both majority and minority
language students (e.g. Christian et al., 1997; Dolson & Lindholm, 1995).
Note that, as in the U.S. dual language programs, Canadian French immersion
programs are bilingual programs, taught by bilingual teachers, and their goal is
the development of bilingualism and biliteracy.
In evaluations of these
programs, immersion students' performance in French and English was usually
compared to that of native French-speaking students (in French) and
native-English-speaking students (in English) who were attending monolingual
French or English programs. In some cases, comparisons were made with students
in less intensive forms of "partial immersion." These programs involved 50%
instruction in each language. Rossell and Baker label these programs as
"transitional bilingual education" despite the fact that they involve no
transition from one language to another and are intended for majority language
students rather than minority language students.
In addition to these
seven French immersion program evaluations, one of the ten studies (Malherbe,
1946) was an extremely large-scale study of Afrikaans-English bilingual
education in South Africa involving 19,000 students. The other two were carried
out in the United States (Gersten, 1 985; Pena-Hughes & Solis, 1980).
The Pena-Hughes and Solis program (labeled "structured immersion" by Rossell
and Baker) involved an hour of Spanish language arts per day and was viewed as a
form of bilingual education by the director of the program (Willig, 1981/82). I
would see the genuine promotion of L1 literacy in this program as indicating a
much more adequate model of bilingual education than the quick-exit transitional
bilingual program to which it was being compared. Gersten's study involved an
extremely small number of Asian-origin students (12 immersion students in the
first cohort and nine bilingual program students, and 16 and seven in the second
cohort) and hardly constitutes an adequate sample upon which to base national
Malherbe's study concluded that students instructed bilingually
did at least as well in each language as students instructed monolingually
despite much less time through each language. He argues strongly for the
benefits of bilingual education.
So we come to the seven Canadian French
immersion programs. It seems incongruous that Rossell and Baker use the success
of such bilingual programs to argue for monolingual immersion programs taught
largely by monolingual teachers with the goal of developing monolingualism. This
is particularly the case since two of the seven programs they cite as evidence
for monolingual structured immersion were actually trilingual programs involving
instruction in French, English, and Hebrew! The logic here is that we should
implement monolingual programs on the basis of research demonstrating the
effectiveness of trilingual programs.
More bizarre, however, is the fact
that their account of the outcomes of French immersion programs is erroneous in
the extreme. Consider the following quotation:
"Both the middle class and
working class English-speaking students who were immersed in French in
kindergarten and grade one were almost the equal of native French-speaking
students until the curriculum became bilingual in grade two, at which point
their French ability declined and continued to decline as English was
increased." (p. 22)
Rossell and Baker seem oblivious to the fact that at
the end of grade one French immersion students are still at very early stages in
their acquisition of French. Despite good progress in learning French
(particularly receptive skills) during the initial two years of the program,
they are still far from native-like in virtually all aspects of proficiency --
speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Most grade 1 and 2 French immersion
students are still incapable of carrying on even an elementary conversation in
French without major errors and insertions of English.
Similarly, it is
ludicrous to claim, as Baker and Rossell do, that the French proficiency of
grade 6 immersion students is more poorly developed than that of grade 1
students, and to attribute this to the fact that L1 instruction has been
incorporated in the program. Significantly, Rossell and Baker cite no specific
study to back up these claims.
The validity of the claims can be
assessed from Swain and Lapkin's (1982) overview of the French immersion
research conducted in Ontario which reported that students at the grade 1 and 2
level "were scoring as well as about one-third of native French-speaking
students in Montreal, and by grade 6 as well as one-half of the Montreal
comparison group." (pp. 41-42). These data refer to performance on a
standardized achievement measure; Swain and Lapkin point out that there are
major differences at all grade levels in the productive skills of speaking and
Lambert and Tucker (1972) similarly report highly significant
differences between grade 1 immersion and native French-speaking students on a
variety of vocabulary, grammatical and expressive skills in French, despite the
fact that no differences were found in some of the sub-skills of reading such as
word discrimination. By the end of grade four, however, (after 3 years of
English [L1] language arts instruction), the immersion students had caught up
with the French controls in vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension,
although major differences still remained in speaking ability.
that two years of immersion in French in kindergarten and grade 1 results in
almost native-like proficiency in French in a context where there is virtually
no French exposure in the environment or in school outside the classroom flies
in the face of a massive amount of research data. This can be verified by anyone
who cares to step into any of the thousands of grade 1 French immersion
classrooms across Canada.
In short, the French immersion data are the
opposite of what Rossell and Baker claim. There are very significant differences
between the immersion students and native French-speaking controls at the end of
grade 1 (after two years of monolingual total immersion) but the immersion
students catch up in French listening and reading in the later grades of
elementary school after the program becomes bilingual (and obviously after they
have had several more years of learning French!).
Rossell and Baker's
discussion of the French immersion data is presumably meant to imply that two
years of "structured immersion" in English should be sufficient for limited
English proficient students to come close to grade norms in English. The fact
that the one large-scale "methodologically acceptable" study that investigated
this issue (Ramirez, 1992) found that early-grade students in "structured
immersion" were very far from grade norms in English even after four years of
immersion does not seem to disturb them. Recently released large-scale data from
the Los Angeles Unified School District also show grade 5 Latino students who
had spent their elementary school years in monolingual structured immersion
performing well below similar students who participated consistently in
bilingual programs in Reading, Language, and Math (Los Angeles Unified School
The significance of these points is that the empirical
basis of Rossell and Baker's entire argument rests, according to their own
admission, on the performance in French of English-background students in the
first two years of Canadian French immersion programs. Not only are a large
majority of the programs they cite as evidence for "structured immersion"
Canadian French immersion programs, but Rossell (1996) (in response to critiques
from Kathy Escamilla and Susan Dicker) suggests that:
"In the first two
years, the program is one of total immersion, and evaluations conducted at that
point are considered to be evaluations of 'structured immersion.' It is really
not important that, in later years, the program becomes bilingual if the
evaluation is being conducted while it is still and always has been a structured
immersion program" (1996, p. 383)
Rossell and Baker's argument thus
rests on their claim that students in monolingual "structured immersion"
programs (Canadian French immersion programs in kindergarten and grade 1) come
close to grade norms while the program is monolingual in L2 but lose ground in
comparison to native speakers when the program becomes bilingual in later
grades. As we have seen, the data show exactly the opposite: there are major
gaps between immersion students and native French speakers after the initial two
years of monolingual L2 instruction but students catch up with native speakers
in receptive skills after instruction in their L1 (English) is introduced and
the program has become fully bilingual. Based on their own premises and
interpretation of the data, it is clear that Rossell and Baker should be arguing
for bilingual instruction rather than against it. This is particularly the case
in view of the fact that among their list of "methodologically acceptable"
studies are several that demonstrate the superiority of programs that provide
strong sustained L1 literacy instruction in addition to literacy instruction in
English (El Paso Unified School District, 1987, 1992; Legaretta, 1979;
Pena-Hughes & Solis, 1980). Here is what Keith Baker said about the El Paso
program evaluation (in a strong critique of Rosalie Pedalino Porter's book
"She summarizes a report from El Paso (1987) as finding
that an all-English immersion program was superior to bilingual education
programs. The El Paso report has no such finding. What Porter describes as an
all-English immersion program in El Paso is, in fact, a Spanish-English dual
immersion program. The El Paso study supports the claims of bilingual education
advocates that most bilingual education programs do not use enough of the native
language. It does not support Porter's claims that they should use less." (1992,
In summary, drawing on "methodologically acceptable" research
studies carried out in Canada, the United States, and South Africa, Rossell and
Baker demonstrate that bilingual (and trilingual) programs succeed extremely
well in developing strong literacy skills in both languages. They show a 90%
effectiveness rate for programs that aim to develop strong bilingual and
biliteracy skills in comparison to monolingual programs or bilingual programs
that aim to eradicate students' first language.
Note: This article was
provided to JPPP by Currents in Literacy, a publication of the Hood Literacy
Baker, K. (1992, Winter/Spring).
Review of Forked Tongue. Bilingual Basics, pp. 6-7. Christian, D.,
Montone, C.L., Lindholm, K.J., & Carranza, I. (1997). Profiles in two-way
immersion education. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta
Dolson, D. & Lindholm, K. (1995). World class education for
children in California: A comparison of the two-way bilingual immersion and
European Schools model. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas (Ed.) Multilingualism for all.
(pp. 69-102). Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
El Paso Independent School
District (1987). Interim report of the five-year bilingual education pilot
1986-87 school year. El Paso, Tx: Office for Research and Evaluation.
Paso Independent School District (1992). Bilingual education evaluation. El
Paso, TX: Office for Research and Evaluation.
Gersten, R. (1985).
Structured immersion for language minority students: Results of a longitudinal
evaluation. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 7, 187-196.
Lambert, W.E. & Tucker, G.R. (1972). Bilingual education of children: The
St. Lambert Experiment. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.
(1979). The effects of program models on language acquisition by Spanish
speaking children. TESOL Quarterly, 13, 521-534.
Los Angeles Unified
School District (1998, February). Students in bilingual programs outperform
students in English programs on achievement tests in English. Press Release,
Malherbe, E.G. (1946). The bilingual school. Johannesberg: The
Bilingual School Association.
Pena-Hughes, E. & Solis, J. (1980). ABCs
(unpublished report). McAllen, TX: McAllen Independent School District.
Porter, R. P. (1990). Forked tongue: The politics of bilingual education. New
York: Basic Books.
Ramirez, J.D. (1992). Executive summary. Bilingual
Research Journal, 16, 1-62.
Rossell, C.H. (1996). Letters from readers
(reply to critiques from Kathy Escamilla, & Susan Dicker). Research in the
Teaching of English, 30, 376-385.
Rossell, C.H. & Baker, K. (1996).
The effectiveness of bilingual education. Research in the Teaching of English,
Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (1982). Evaluating bilingual
education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
(1981/82). The effectiveness of bilingual education: Review of a report. NABE
Journal, 6, 1-19. Return to the Journal of Pedagogy,
Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Fall 1998 Issue Main Page
Editorial - Luke Baldwin in Memoriam
Luke Baldwin and Linda Brion-Meisels - Fostering Gumption
Jim Cummins - Rossell and Baker: The Effectiveness of Bilingual Education
Brenda Matthis - Stories From The Other Side of the Screen
Wade A. Carpenter - The Grand Bazaar
Sarah Nieves-Squires - Cultural Identity and Bilingualism in the Puerto Rican Reality
Mary Ann Johnson - The Ebonics Debate
Angela María Pérez-Mejía - His-panics and Mine
Donna Cole - English as a Second Language
The Editorial Board
2004 Spring and Fall
2000 Fall/2001 Spring
The Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice
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A Professor in the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Dr. Jim Cummins specializes in language and literacy development. Dr. Cummins is a pioneer in the research and assessment of Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).
Explore the full content catalog of Lesley's Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice, featuring articles by leading faculty and practitioners in education, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts, by returning to the Journal's Main Page.