The Elephant in the Classroom: A Policy Proposal for Bilingual Education in California Public Schools
by Thiago C.S. Marques
In 2000, the United States' foreign-born, or immigrant, population measured 31 million, accounting for about 11% of the total U.S. population. With the foreign-born population exceeding 34 million in 2004, demographers predict that by 2010, the foreign-born population is expected to reach 42-43 million, accounting for over 13% of the total U.S. population. Over16 million of these immigrants were from pre-dominantly Spanish-speaking Latin America, representing 52% of the total foreign-born population (Malone, Baluja, Costanzo, & Davis, 2003). Moreover, first and second generation immigrants are the fastest growing group of the U.S. child population, which includes 60%of all Hispanic-American children (Zhou, 1997). However, because of interstate differences in migration patterns within the U.S., these estimates are somewhat limited. For instance, of the foreign-born population in 2000, more than 38%lived in the Western United States (Malone et al., 2003). Given this pattern of emigration, certain states, such as California, have a substantially larger number of immigrants than the rest of the country.
California's population of 34 million makes up about 12% of U.S. residents, but includes about 33% of U.S. immigrants and 40% ofunauthorized foreigners. One-fourth of California residents emigrated to the United States, another one-fifth were born in the country but have at least one immigrant parent, and over 50% of California's children have at least one parent who is foreign-born (García y Griego & Martin, 2000). Since 1990, one-third of the California's annual growth in population is comprised of immigrants, and is expected to continue growing. Latinos are projected to be the largest ethnic group in the state by 2021 (Alonzo-Diaz & Wu, 2005).Undoubtedly, the societal and demographic trend of immigration and efforts at integrating immigrants are amid the most pressing policy matters contending California residents and policymakers.
When immigrant children enter California schools, they confront challenges that include cultural differences, minimal exposure to socioeconomic capital, and limited healthcare access (Wolfe, 1994). As evident in the literature, these issues are detrimental to the development of children's cognitive, socioemotional, and motor functioning (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, & Aber, 1997a; 1997b; Petitto, 2009). Research also suggests that language barriers constrain children's capacity to not only develop normally, but flourish fully in their economic, social, political or spiritual spheres. This is an especially important consideration, as most immigrant children enter the school system with little to no proficiency of the English language (Alkire, 2002; Garrison, Roy, & Azar, 1999). State legislators can improve the educational realities unraveling in California and provide its rapidly expanding immigrant children population with a comprehensive education curriculum that both facilitates the development of English, and also fosters language skills in the child's native tongue.
Empirical Support for Bilingual Education
Until recently, a prevalent belief in the United States was that childhood bilingualism led to cognitive and linguistic deficits (Darcy, 1953). Coupled with contemporary social unease and ethnic prejudices, results of standardized testing employed faulty research approaches, which garnered support for English-only instruction. Newly arrived immigrants performed poorly on exams measuring intelligence, verbal abilities such as vocabulary and written composition, and were often compared to monolingual participants of higher socio-economic statuses, a methodological concern regularly overlooked in several empirical studies of the time (Barke & Perry-Williams, 1938; Carrow, 1957; Macnamara, 1966). A large body of recent research, however, shows that children who become fluent in two languages are actually advanced in cognitive development and display advantages over their monolingual peers. Studies incorporating brain-imaging indicates that acquiring and developing early proficiency in two languages affects the density of neuronal connectionism language areas of the left hemisphere, which might suggest an ability to meet the demands of both their language environments, further enhancing language skills in each (Mechelli et al., 2004). Bilingual children surpass their monolingual peers on tests in the areas of analytical reasoning, concept formation, cognitive flexibility, and selective attention - abilities that help children understand and classify objects, events, or ideas in different situations (Bialystok, 2001; Bialystok & Martin, 2004). They are also advanced in detecting grammar and meaning errors, as well as other aspects of metalinguistic awareness. Furthermore, if two languages share phonological features and letter sounds, children are more readily able to transfer their skills in phonological awareness in one language to the other (Bialystok, McBride-Chang, & Luk, 2005; Snow & Kang, 2006). These characteristics, as noted earlier, facilitate reading achievement and are important for children's acquisition of advanced discourse and emergent literacy skills, characteristics that largely inform eventual success in reading and fluency in speaking (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998).
Children can acquire a second language in two ways. Young children can become bilingual by acquiring both languages simultaneously early on in childhood or by learning a second language after mastering the first (Genesee, 2008). An example of simultaneous dual language learning is when parents regularly communicate with their child using two different languages since birth. Children of bilingual parents who teach them both languages in infancy and early childhood show no extraordinary difficulties in mastering language development. Preschoolers gain basic native skills in the language of their immediate community and moderate proficiency in the second language, depending on how often they come into contact with it (Genesee, 2001). From the beginning, bilingual children discriminate between their language systems, distinguishing their sounds, comprehending comparable words in each, and achieving early language goals according to a typical developmental trajectory(Conboy & Thal, 2006; Genesee & Nicoladis, 2007; Holowka, Brosseau-Lapré, & Petitto, 2002). Research also finds that children who participate in early bilingual code-mixing (e.g., using elements from two languages in the same statement) demonstrate communicative competence and a growing capacity to manage the use of their two languages in socially appropriate ways (Comeau, Genesee, & Mendelson, 2007; King, 2006).
The second model of dual language acquisition reviews the nuances of pre-school-age children picking up a second language after already speaking a first. For example, when children are introduced to and speak only their primary language at home during the first one or two years of life and then attend preschool programs in which another language is used. Initially, these English language learners tend to utter common expressions that use few language units, suggesting that children rely a great deal on previously acquired and memorized phrases (e.g., look it, wait a minute, lemme see) (Tabors, 1997; Wong Fillmore, 1979). The phonological acquisition of sequential second language learners can also vary from simultaneous language learners in the form of a discernible foreign accent (Flege, 1999). Lexical learning can also differ since children are more cognitively mature when this process begins taking place, and can employ their knowledge of the first language's lexicon to develop vocabulary in the second language faster (Winitz, Gillespie, & Starcev, 1995). Given that this form of second language acquisition is successive, it is important to study these English language learners (ELLs) separately from simultaneous bilinguals, especially when considering education policy. There are practical reasons for studying preschool-age children. Research validates that during the pre-school years, children develop their basic academic language and literacy abilities (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2007). Such findings are leading policymakers and early childhood educators (e.g., Early Head Start, Head Start) to recognize the decisive role of programs that develop and foster fundamental language functioning in pre-school children. This growing body of literature provides empirical evidence supporting the development of new bilingual education programs in the nation.
Normative Support for Bilingual Education
Other sources of information, such as government treatises and international conventions, further strengthen incentive to reform bilingual education in the States. For instance, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN General Assembly, 1989) outlines the social and cultural, economic, and political rights of children in a comprehensive list of 54 articles guided by the basic principle that all children (i.e., all human beings below the age of 18) are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings. Articles 28 and 29, in particular, devote effort to the topic of education and a child's unconditional right to have access to it: States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieve this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all [and] (e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of dropout rates (Article 28; UN General Assembly, 1989).
Additionally, Article 29 reports: "States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child's personality, talent and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential" (United Nations General Assembly, 1989). Although the aforementioned articles reinforce the right of children to education, it does not provide sufficient rationale for States Parties to consider a bilingual curriculum.
The premises of Article 8, however, can and should be considered in supporting such a curriculum: (1) States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. (2) Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity" (UN General Assembly, 1989).
Linguistic anthropological studies have noted that individuals create, understand, and share their identities through the use of language (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986). Moreover, Article 30 discusses States Parties' obligation to protect a child's culture, which previous research demonstrates has a bidirectional relationship with language; culture and language are embedded within one another (Schieffelin& Ochs, 1986): In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise [sic] his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language (UN General Assembly, 1989).
Surprisingly, as of 2008, the United States has not ratified the articles negotiated at the Convention and, there-fore, has no official responsibility to adhere to it (Child Rights Information Network, 2009).Regardless of the United States' official stance on these articles, the Millennium Development Goals, derived at the United Nations Millennium Summiting September 2000 from the Millennium Declaration, has endeavored to achieve universal primary education, arguing that "better education is fundamental to the prospects for economic and social development and the end of world poverty"(UN Development Programme, 2009).
According to the capabilities-based approach (Alkire, 2005),peoples and institutions should aim to expand the freedom that marginalized people have, so that they may be able to access the essential constructive resources (e.g., education, healthcare) and agency deemed imperative in making choices that matter to them, while not inhibiting the potential for long-term human fulfillment (Alkire, 2003; Alkire, 2005). Institutions have a responsibility to implement strategies that safe-guard peoples from direct (e.g., genocide, soil degradation) and indirect (e.g., overinvestment in military, underinvestment in public healthcare) critical and pervasive threats, ultimately preserving the rights and freedoms pertaining "to survival, to lively-hood, and to basic dignity" (Alkire, 2003, p. 3). By not providing immigrant children with scientifically-sound and morally-supported educational opportunities, governing entities fail to safeguard children from threats like poverty, which empirical data suggests increases as years of education decreases (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Smith, 2010). Even more alarming, Hispanics accounted for nearly 34% of young children living in poverty in 2003 (Barrueco, Lopez, & Miles, 2007).Empirical sources of information and normative values of morality make very explicit the need for bilingual education programs, especially in California where the growing Hispanic population is at risk.
Dual Language Programs
The advantages of bilingualism strongly warrant investment in bilingual education programs, and the rationale behind the dual language approach to education for English language learners is especially salient in California. For instance, the educational advantage of dual language programs is that they rely heavily on the systematic use of the English-learners' home language. Research has demonstrated that English language learners draw upon their abilities, understanding, and experiences associated with their home language, regardless of whether it is a dual language or English-only program (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005). Dual language programs build upon the natural acquisition strategies of English language learners' through bootstrapping (e.g., using their developed, primary language to help learn a second language) resulting in English literacy (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005). Currently in California, there are a number of school programs that offer alternatives to mainstream education agendas for educating English language learners. Alternative programs differ in primary goals, theoretical rationale, and intended student populations. These programs include: (a) transitional bilingual, (b) developmental bilingual, and (c) two-way immersion.
Occasionally referred to as early-exit bilingual education, transitional bilingual education (TBE) has traditionally been the most widely used form of bilingual education for English language learners in the United States (Moran & Hakuta, 1995). Academic instruction is in the English learner's native tongue, but they simultaneously learn English. Transitional bilingual education aims to achieve proficiency of grade-respective academic skills and know-ledge; it does not aim for full bilingualism, rather monolingualism (California DoE, 2010). These alternative programs focus on expediting English language acquisition and helping children transition to English-only mainstream classrooms. Transitional programs teach English language learners in their first language during kindergarten and first grade. The transition to English occurs in second and third grades (Gersten & Woodward, 1995).Essentially; TBE does not facilitate the ELs' development of their native language and is viewed as a remedial program, which replaces the home language with English (Genesee & Gándara, 1999).
Commonly referred to as late-exit or maintenance bilingual education, DBE (developmental bilingual education) uses ELLs' native language and English for academic instruction throughout their primary grades and begins transitioning students to English in late elementary and early middle school, as opposed to second and third grades. Many ELL students learn to speak English conversationally within their first 2 years of instruction, but research shows that, by high school, most students are able to use English to learn academic subjects and perform at the same level with native English-speaking classmates, between five to seven years (Paradis, 2007).However, whenever necessary, DBE is implemented in high school as well. DBE programs aspire to uphold high levels of academic success, while promoting full mastery in the students' home language and English in academics (California DoE, 2010).
Implementation of two-way immersion (TWI) programs, also known as two-way bilingual education or dual language immersion, has been steadily increasing. TWI integrates language and academic instruction for native English-speakers and English language learners aims to promote high levels of academic achievement and self-esteem, first and second language proficiency, and cross-cultural understanding (Padilla, 2006). Language-majority students become exposed to the difficulties English language learners confront in their attempt to learn new material in a different language. Such exposure and integration can essentially promote a better learning environment for all students and decreases fears and anxieties associated with speaking a new language, making mistakes, and doubt of intelligence.
Beginning in primary school and ex-tending five to seven years, TWI programs tend to operate between kindergarten and senior year of high school. A TWI class-room consists of equal numbers of English language learners and native English speakers (e.g., 50:50 model), and provides at least50% of instruction in the partner language, but is delivered in one language at a time without translation (California Department of Education, 2010; Howard& Sugarman, 2009). Classroom instruction aims to integrate language-minority and language-majority students at least 60% of the time, and are additive programs, in which a second language is mastered while maintaining the native language (Howard & Sugarman, 2001; Howard et al., 2007).
TWI programs also vary in the language of choice for initial literacy instruction. In 2001, 31% of national programs used language-minority initial instruction, contrasting the 53% of programs in California (Howard& Sugarman, 2001). Implementing a two-way bilingual immersion program does not necessarily require two teachers; one teacher who is proficient in both languages will suffice (California DoE, 2010). For the language blocks of instruction, however, educators are encouraged to teach in teams so that students can identify with one model in each language; this is especially true in kindergarten through second grade (California DoE, 2010).
Current Policy Proposal
Empirical evidence demonstrates the degree to which two-way immersion pro-grams facilitate bilingual oral and academic performance among not only English-language learning Hispanics, but English-speaking children as well. A voluminous body of research compares the standardized achievement scores of students participating in TWI curriculums to those in other programs, and finds that dual-language Hispanics and English-speakers perform as well or better on tests in Spanish and English than peers of the same age (Barnett, Yarosz, Thomas, & Blanco, 2006; Cobb, Vega, & Kronauge, 2005; García & Jensen, 2006). Other studies, however, do not find any significant differences between or within groups (e.g., Howard, Sugarman, & Christian, 2003). More often than not, researchers present strong evidence to promote two-way immersion programs because of its various benefits, and program goals directed toward achieving high levels of both language and academic proficiency (i.e., bilingualism, biliteracy) and multicultural competence (i.e., understanding of different cultures and development of high self-esteem). Given this, the current policy proposal builds on the two-way immersion model.
Currently in California, there are a total of 201 two-way immersion programs across 90 districts. Established in San Francisco, San Jose, Windsor, Santa Monica-Malibu, and Oakland, these programs promote proficiency in six languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cantonese (California DoE, 2010; University of California at Davis, 1997). However, it is important to recognize some of the setbacks of California's bilingual education system in order to make significant improvement. Of particular interest is the shortage of qualified and competent native-language teachers in dual language education programs. In 1996, California had 220,000 teachers, but only 13,500 had the necessary credentials to teach English language learners, producing very high ratios of ELs per qualified teacher (University of California, Davis, 1997). Currently, approximately two-thirds of ELs students do not receive the special services they require. Given the increase in the number of children whose native language is not English and a decrease in there-sources going to schools, California faces an enormous challenge not to be taken lightly (NEA, 2000). Not surprisingly, qualified and well-trained staff is an integral component of successful bilingual education programs and should be considered in policy proposals aimed at minimizing this pervasive issue (Lindholm-Leary & Genesee, 2007; Howard & Sugarman, 2001).
Teacher's International Arrangement Campaign for Education
The proposed policy borrows from the concept of a teacher exchange program with other countries, with the aim of locating teachers who are proficient in the tar-get minority language. The proposed pro-gram, Teacher's International Arrangement Campaign for Education (Teacher's I-ACE), will provide opportunities for qualified educators to take part in direct exchanges of positions with teachers from the 90 California districts where two-way immersion programs are currently implemented. Teachers from language minority countries will exchange positions with teachers in California bilingual programs. The visiting instructor will provide participating students with a unique and authentic opportunity to experience their native language and culture, while mutually developing English proficiency. Educators from within the California school system will be given an opportunity to further expand his or her knowledge of the language minority's culture. Upon return, these teachers will be able to provide their students with information acquired experientially.
Educators will be required to stay for a full academic year, so that students develop a sense of trust and community. The Teacher's International Arrangement Campaign for Education is a year long, paid teacher exchange program. Participants in the program must be able to commit 40 to 45weeks during the academic school year to participate in the program. Educators will find placement in a California district that operates a two-way immersion program, with the assistance of Teacher's I-ACE. Participants will be awarded stipend of $30,000 for participation in the pro-gram. $15,000 will be awarded at the start of the program to assist with housing costs. The second $15,000 will be awarded after the successful completion of the program. Teacher's I-ACE will offer assistance to participants in finding housing, but cannot guarantee, provide or pay directly for housing in California for the duration of the program. Participants in the program will be required to sign standard work agreement and complete proper immigration forms.
The goals of the program are to enhance the competence and integrity of native-language teachers, with the aim of stimulating children's development of bilingualism and biliteracy, in addition to promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and the peoples of other countries through educational exchange. Participants work to ensure that students growing up today in our country's bilingual communities are given the educational opportunities they deserve. Alumni of the program are a powerful force of leaders working to reform education from every facet to promote the fundamental changes needed to ensure that all children have an adequate bilingual education. In exchanging positions with foreign teachers or administrators, program participants have the opportunity to live and work in the cultures of their host countries, an experience which has benefits for the teachers, their schools, and their communities.
Benefits to Teachers and Administrators, Schools, and Communities
There are many advantages for teachers and administrators to employ such a program. One benefit is that teachers increase their understanding of their host country and language. This newly gained understanding will be transmitted naturally to students through the scheduled curriculum. Additionally, it is an opportunity for such professionals to enhance their careers, allowing teachers to gain new perspectives in addition to being exposed to new teaching methods. These newly gained tools will help educators accommodate more efficiently their classroom populations.
Schools participating in Teacher's I-ACE will also gain from the program. The program hopes to create opportunities for students to learn foreign languages from native speakers. Through this, foreign exchange teachers encourage students to develop an increased awareness of the global village, ultimately educating the entire person in a holistic way. Instructors have an exciting opportunity to connect school children to various cultures, communities, and languages, highlighting the growing importance of diversity in sociocultural expression and problem resolution. Given that all cultures represent meaningful ways of existing, children can establish cultural empathy and acquire new skills for navigating their social spaces. Teacher's I-ACE also recognizes the growing need for today's children to remain competitive later on in life when they seek opportunities in the global labor market. Multicultural educators can ensure that students develop an understanding of other culture's specific values, beliefs, and actions.
In addition to this, I-ACE facilitates the development of a professional relationship between the institutions participating in the program. Expanding the network of invaluable resources and knowledge is a beneficial product of this proposal. Furthermore, possibly one of the most fundamental parts of this program surrounds the idea of community building. Teacher's I-ACE hopes to increase the number of opportunities by increasing awareness of diversity of ideas, values, worldviews, and ways of life.
The goal of this teacher foreign-exchange program is to build upon the strengths of teachers, schools, and communities, which are key factors in the development of children's language and academic abilities. However, rigorous research must also accompany such an initiative. In order to properly evaluate the efficacy and potential effectiveness of the program, place-randomized trials, in which a number of public schools within the California districts are randomly assigned to the intervention, will be conducted (Boruch et al., 2004). After initial evaluations, the California school system will be encouraged to modify parts of the program considered unnecessary or inefficient.
California's immigrant population is on the rise, and academic, governmental, and social institutions in the state should prioritize this growing population when addressing societal and demographic trends. Research is imperative in expanding knowledge in the implementation of bilingual education. Moreover, conducting methodologically rigorous, community responsive, and policy-relevant research with understudied groups is increasingly important for policy and practice. In addition to adhering to the normative values of today's society, empirical data provides academic, governmental, or social institutions with significant information so that responsible actions are exercised when addressing these populations.
In summation, policy recommendations include the following:
-Provide unique and authentic opportunities for bilingual students to experience their native language and culture, while mutually developing English proficiency.
-Establish programs that encourage children's development of bilingualism and biliteracy, and
connect them to various cultures and communities, highlighting the growing importance of diversity in sociocultural expression, problem solving, and cultural empathy.
-Fund teacher preparation programs to further develop the competencies native-language teachers who are trained in second language acquisition to work as language specialists and promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the peoples of other countries through educational exchange.
-Educate children so they remain competitive later in life when they seek opportunities in the global labor market. Multicultural educators can ensure that students develop an understanding of other culture's specific values, beliefs, and actions.
-Periodically evaluate the efficacy of two-way immersion programs by randomly assigning schools to the intervention, and modify parts of the program considered unnecessary or inefficient.
-Build participatory action research committees and consistently check in with residents and neighborhood stake-holders, modifying the implementation of the program as necessary.
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