Thomas and Collier Share the Educational Implications of Their
Research on Dual Language Programs
In Chapter One of your book you discuss the large achievement
gap between native speakers and English learners and state:
"In the U.S, current and former English learners with unmet
needs are no longer a small minority. As a nation, we cannot
afford continuation of current education practices that have
produced this large gap, at the risk of under-preparing a large
segment of our citizenry for the 21st century." Just how
wide is that gap and what are some current trends in bilingual
and ESL instruction that can help close it?
English learners are first tested in English using the standard
curricular measure, such as a state test or a norm-referenced
test, their performance on the reading subtest (which generally
measures reading across the curriculum) is what we use in our
research as an indicator of their academic achievement levels
in second language. After approximately 2-3 years of schooling
in the U.S. when schooled only in English (e.g. minimal ESL
pullout), we find that English learners on average score around
the 10th -12th percentile on the reading subtest. That means
the English learners are scoring about 1.2 national standard
deviations below native-English speakers when tested in English.
Since the norm group of native English speakers averages at
the 50th percentile (grade level performance), that's a huge
most effective English learner programs we've seen, dual language
programs are capable of closing the large gap (1.2 national
standard deviations) at the rate of about 0.2 national standard
deviations per year. This means that the strongest programs
for English learners will require about six years to fully close
the gap. Three-year programs only close half of the gap at best.
current strategies that close the gap in the shortest amount
of time possible are found in dual language programs, in which
English learners are receiving the curriculum at least half
of the instructional time through their mother tongue and the
other half in English. English learners enrolled in these programs
can fully close the gap in second language in six years, making
1 ½ years' progress each year (in comparison to the progress
of native English speakers on grade level, who only need to
make one year's progress to stay on grade level). Dual language
schools are being implemented in North Carolina in a number
of school districts, and both English learners and native-English
speakers in these dual language classes are outperforming their
peers in all grades in which they are tested (3-8). By middle
school they are scoring one grade level above their peers in
6-8th grade, because of the intellectual stimulus of schooling
through two languages.
schools not yet implementing dual language programs, ESL taught
through academic content is crucial to accelerate the closing
of the achievement gap for English learners.
state that your research shows that dual language programs work
best to close the achievement gap. Could you briefly explain
implementing dual language programs are committed to transformation
of the relationships between groups of students. The cross-cultural
context for integrated schooling (e.g. Anglo-American, African-American,
and Hispanic-American students acquiring the curriculum through
their two languages, Spanish and English) allows for greater
creativity in lessons that teach problem-solving across the
curriculum from many cross-cultural perspectives. It is a natural
context for teaching each other through discovery learning.
In the NC dual language schools, there is also a widely diverse
socioeconomic mix in each classroom, which leads to students
respecting and valuing each other as partners in the learning
process, whatever their background. The English-speaking students
in dual language classes often perceive the program as an unusual
gifted curriculum (the NC schools are so popular that they have
to enroll English speakers by lottery), so they are greatly
motivated to attend and excel in school. The "prestige"
of the program then influences the desire for high achievement
among the Spanish speakers, and it's a win-win for all groups.
dual language programs are powerful developers of students'
cognitive skills. This important factor enables students to
better address the more difficult items on the tests they take,
and thus to score higher. They also master the more cognitively
demanding aspects of the curriculum. Both of these combine to
allow English learners to close the normally unclosed second
half of the achievement gap (from 30th to 50th percentiles).
In school districts in Texas where students have made it all
the way through K-12 dual language classes, the dual language
students excel academically, and they have a strong graduation
rate and are admitted to four-year universities with scholarship
most existing dual language programs serve students long enough
to close the achievement gap?
takes an average of six years to fully close the gap. This is
also true for native-English speakers acquiring the second language,
when they are tested on curricular tests in the second language.
It is a non-negotiable that dual language programs must continue
at least throughout the elementary school years (K-5, and if
there is a preschool, then PK-5). Many dual language programs
continue into the middle school years too. Transitional bilingual
education (TBE) is a very different type of bilingual program,
and in states that have implemented this model, students often
receive bilingual schooling for only 2-4 years, not enough to
fully close the achievement gap in English. A number of states
that used to implement mainly TBE are now expanding the dual
language model to many schools (e.g. Texas, New Mexico, Illinois,
New York), after the longitudinal research has clearly shown
the benefits of schooling students through two languages for
six or more years.
teachers often admonish their students to speak more English
at home. Why is this not always a good idea?
is the most important context where cognitive development occurs.
When children continue to use the language(s) that the parents
know best, from birth to at least age 12, they are receiving
nonstop cognitive development. Parents are a wonderful source
for the stimulation of thinking skills, when they talk with
their children, such as asking questions, making decisions,
discussing daily activities, cooking, shopping, telling stories,
sharing family heritage, and so on. When parents use the language(s)
in which they are cognitively mature (because they have used
their home language(s) throughout their growing up and adult
years and cognitive development is not directly connected to
schooling, but instead to life experiences), then they are presenting
an adult cognitive model to the child and nonstop cognitive
development takes place. When parents speak to their children
in English and English is not the language in which they are
cognitively mature, their children's cognitive development is
shows that children whose first language use is stopped or slowed
down before age 12 may experience cognitive slowdown; whereas
those whose first language is continuously developed through
at least age 12 have cognitive advantages. Furthermore, proficient
bilinguals (who develop written as well as oral proficiency
in both languages) outscore monolinguals on many types of measures-especially
in measures of creativity and problem-solving.
are some ways to support students' primary languages in schools,
absent a full-fledged dual language program?
content courses in L1 (taught by foreign language faculty at
secondary level), hiring bilingual school staff, using L1 volunteer
tutors (including parents, peers, and cross-age tutors), providing
books and other resources in L1 in the library and all classrooms,
preparing units in lessons that incorporate other languages
in a meaningful way (e.g. bilingual storytellers, L1 pen pals
across classes or schools through email, journal writing in
L1, environmental print in L1 for young readers, show and tell
in L1, learning centers in L1), building partnerships with parents
to continue L1 cognitive and academic development at home, using
the school building for after-school or weekend school taught
in L1, encouraging students to contribute articles in L1 to
student publications, allowing social use of L1 outside of classes,
encouraging extracurricular activities and school celebrations
in L1, sending newsletters and school information to parents
in L1, providing family math and literacy programs in evenings
and weekends in L1
Obama has urged Congress to send him a new education law by
fall. What changes would you recommend be included in the 2012
No Child Left Behind law?
the Obama administration supports the idea that a world-class
education means acquiring a second language, it makes good sense
for federal stimulus funds to be provided for two-way dual language
schools (programs that integrate native-English speakers with
another language group so that they acquire the curriculum through
the students' two languages). Towards the end of the Clinton
administration, funding was provided for developing two-way
dual language programs, so this funding should be restored and
increased dramatically. This is the solution to teaching foreign
languages to native-English speakers. Introducing students to
foreign language at middle school and high school level is too
little and too late, since it is only taught as a subject at
that level. Acquiring a second language naturally through the
curriculum is an ideal way to develop deep proficiency in the
language. Since English learners also need to close their achievement
gap, these programs are a win-win for both groups.
other major change that needs to be made in the federal funding
is to lessen the punitive aspects of the NCLB legislation, and
allow schools to truly meet students' needs by encouraging discovery
learning and creative teaching. And when analyzing test data,
rather than emphasizing comparing last year's fourth graders
to this year's fourth graders (completely different groups with
different needs), they should focus analyses on longitudinal
research, following the same students across time. Progress
should be based on where each student started and how much progress
that student has made, year by year.
should be improved so that they become much more than minimum-competency
measures of low-level skills (the typical state test). This
feature of NCLB has encouraged uninspired, scripted, "teacher-proof,"
and uninteresting instruction, when we need to engage students
at higher levels of cognitive demand in the classroom to help
students with much-needed cognitive development. This is especially
true of English learners, who must both develop cognitively
as much as native English speakers do and master the curriculum
in a second language (English), a demanding feat.
summary, dual language programs are an ideal educational environment
for attaining important national education goals, and the federal
government should recognize this and provide necessary financial
support for the state and local school districts to adopt dual
language programs as an across-the-board reform of U.S. education.