Matthew Lynch: Embracing Bilingual Education Models

A major outcome of the Lau v. Nichols case was that the U.S. Office of Civil Rights created a series of guidelines for schools to follow with respect to linguistic diversity. The Lau Remedies, as they were called, required that all English Language Learners (ELL) be taught core academic subjects in their home language until such time as their proficiency in English allowed them to fully benefit from instruction in English. Thus, ELL students had to learn both their core subjects and English. A number of program models exist in order to address the need for non-English speakers to learn both English and required academic subject matter. These include the immersion model, the transition model and developmental bilingual education.

Matthew Lynch

The immersion model allows ELL students to learn all core subjects in English however teachers deliver lessons using simpler language than would be used with English-speaking students. English as a Second Language (ESL) uses a modified form of immersion, offset by pullout classes. In this model, students spend attend regular classes for the majority of the day and then are pulled out for additional specialized instruction. Students are given special instruction and support in English reading and writing, in order to assimilate them into the English-only classroom as quickly as possible.

The transitional model divides an ELL student's instructional time between rigorous training in the English language and instruction in at least some of their core academic subjects in their home language. In this way, students learn English so they can transition into English-only classes, while at the same time receive instruction that prevents them from falling behind academically.

Developmental (or maintenance) bilingual education is given to students who have the basics of the English language so they can continue to learn and improve their English language skills. This model carries through education in both languages and cultures throughout their education. Some schools take this a step further with dual-language programs that are designed to ensure both the ELL and English-speaking students become bilingual. In these programs, the students are all together in one class and are given instruction in both languages.

The dual language education model, (a form of the developmental method) has been tested with great success but has not been commonly implemented, for a variety of reasons. This method has been used at the elementary level but has not been practical in the secondary setting. Researchers have tested this method in Maine with the French language, in California and in Houston, Texas with Spanish. Under this model, ELL students begin language classes at the earliest stages of elementary school, in an integrated classroom among their native language peers. After 4 years of the dual language program, former English learners who were achieving at the 40th NCE (31st percentile) before the program started had reached the 62nd NCE (72nd percentile) in English reading on the Terra Nova, well above grade level.

The findings demonstrate that the two-way language model is extremely effective in closing the gap for achieving a second language. Native English speakers learned Spanish as ELL students learned English, with equal instructional time for both languages. The study also showed that it takes 6 to 8 years for ELL students to reach grade level in the second language—so they are tested on grade level in their first language, in most curriculum areas, but while these students are still closing the language gap, testing in English does not reflect their actual levels of achievement.

There are many opponents of the dual language model however, including parents of these students. Some studies have shown that Hispanic students enrolled in bilingual programs reported far lower income levels than Hispanics who attended "English-only" classes. These parents advocate English-only classes, hoping for a fast-track approach. While this may help with spoken fluency, it has not been proven effective for learning the written aspects of the language.

Dr. Matthew Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. Dr. Lynch is the author of three forthcoming books; Its Time for Change: School Reform for the Next Decade (Rowman & Littlefield December, 2012), A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories (Routledge February 26, 2012), and The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson 2013). Please visit his website at for more information.

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