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Bruno: What's So Bad About Bilingual Education?

2268962162_8f32396d9b_nChecker Finn thinks it's hypocritical for liberal teachers to complain about Louisiana providing vouchers to schools that teach creationism because "curricular craziness, often in defiance of scientific truth as well as common sense, is by no means confined to the science classroom or to private schools." He lists a number of examples of "idiotic ed-school-fostered ideas" supported by traditional public schools including Ebonics, "fuzzy math," and whole language instruction.

I agree that some of those ideas are misguided, and others I'm not familiar with at all, but I was surprised to see him include bilingual education in this list of "idiotic" ideas. Does bilingual education really "trap immigrant youngsters with only the language of their homeland"? This isn't a controversy I've followed closely, but my understanding had been that bilingual education seemed to have some beneficial effects for English learners.

Here's one informal summary of the research stating that bilingual education is superior to English-only instruction. In his own meta-analysis Jay Greene - no "politically correct" left-winger! - concluded that "an unbiased reading of the scholarly research suggests that bilingual education helps children who are learning English."

Again, though, even as a California resident this isn't an issue I've paid much attention to so I don't know if the controversy is primarily political or scientific.  So I'm genuinely curious: is bilingual education really such a bad idea that we should be embarrassed to be funding it with public money? Or is it just intuitively or aesthetically unappealing to some observers? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Please aggregate for me -- what option to bilingual education are they espousing -- just dropping newcomers into classes in English?

Whoops, here's the link to Finn I should have included initially:


I honestly have no idea what sort of alternatives they're envisioning, but I think the criticism often implies that they think all-English instruction will work better.

The research seems to include intervention/control groups that lie along a spectrum with varying amounts of English instruction, so maybe they're just imagining "minimal" native-language instruction?

From what I know (I am an ESL teacher, although I'm not currently teaching ESL), in theory or when it's implemented the way it's meant to be, bi-lingual education is the most effective approach to English language learning there is. What happens at least sometimes if not often in practice, however, is not effective and can mean a student is only learning in their native or primary language. So Finn is wrong--the idea of bi-lingual education is not "idiotic" at all--but when it's not put properly into practice, he is right that it can mean that ELLs learn mostly in their native language and don't learn much English.

The generally proposed alternative to bilingual education is requiring the students to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in English before they are allowed to take other classes.

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