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Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Student Engagement in a Bilingual Education Two-Way Immersion Program

The topic. Bilingual education differs from other types of instructional models for LEP children based on the role of the first language for a child. Thus, bilingual education programs are applied to students implying the use of the native language in order both to master English and provide academic learning of all the subjects. There is a further division of bilingual education programs based on the speed of acquiring language skills: it takes 2 to 3 years for children to grasp the language in transitional projects, while developmental ones are concerned with gradual learning and last mostly 5 to 7 years. Two-way bilingual project is a separate type of bilingual education programs. Stephen May also delimits maintenance and enrichment models of bilingual education and a combination of both, the so-called heritage model (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010). Slavin, Madden, Calderen, Chamberlain, & Hennessy (2010) mention that by the time of engaging the second language bilingual education programs can be divided into “early-exit” and “late-exit” models. The latter implies transition to English only after the completion of elementary course and is based on persuasion that confident acquisition of native language skills is essential in order to get the full understanding of the linguistic principles of the second language. There exists, however, a “paired-bilingual” model of bilingual education that implements simultaneous time of introduction to reading in both languages at different class hours and alternating days. The efficiency of each approach is still to be investigated. A two-way bilingual program rather resembles the “paired bilingual” approach. Other models (English as a Second Language, sheltered English and immersion programs) pay less attention to native language skills and are more focused on English language acquisition in rather short terms. Such a time approach is based on the persuasion that lasting segregation from the mainstream courses decreases the academic capabilities of LEP students (Theobald, 2003). Submersion programs imply teaching in English only (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). Immersion can be early, middle and late, based on the age of students when they enter it (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010). In such a way, the method of the dissertation is a combination of the purely native-based approach and English immersion which works in both ways without harming either of the languages. Such a method seems to be the most reasonable for LEP children as they are taught together with English proficient students and are exposed to the languages of each other (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). Immersion as a language learning method implies the presence of the target language which is used both in the content of curriculum and media of instruction (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010). Bilingual education two-way immersion program, thus, is targeted on two languages, which leads to the conclusion that both native and acquisition languages are taught on the same level and allow the students to fully experience the multicultural environment.

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The two-way immersion that has gained popularity in the United States is often referred to as bilingual immersion, two-way bilingual and two-way dual immersion bilingual. Such a program is based on teaching both language minority and language majority students in a single classroom. There is a wide variety of two-way immersion programs, but they all share the major characteristics like instructions in two languages with resorting to one language at a time and a very important component of language sharing which is facilitated by peer-to-peer approach. Two-way immersion programs demand a lot of initiative and are often based on community and parent organizing skills (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010).

Two-way immersion programs open new vistas for LEP students. When provided by learning in their native language, children tend to perform better academically. The researches carried out in the 1980s and the1990’s and quoted by Pacific Policy Research Center report try to object this idea by giving the outcomes of quantitative tests designed to measure standard academic achievements, but they do not take into consideration the qualitative aspect embracing the variety of two-way immersion programs and different external factors like local sociopolitical and economic environment. For example, in the case of Maori language programs implemented in New Zealand the focus of the project was in the first place on the revitalization of the language. One must keep in mind that two-way immersion bilingual programs differ in types and purposes greatly, that is why unambiguous assessment of their efficiency as a whole is practically impossible.

Not only have most scientists agreed that bilingual education is beneficial for children, but some of them are busy identifying the most effective ways to teach children in two languages. U.S. Department of Education in cooperation with the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) deals with investigating the methods of bilingual education which have proved their success in different schools across the country. The exceptional value of IDRA endeavors is the methodological basis it has accumulated; in particular, the Association has delimited twenty-five essential characteristics of the tutors promoting high academic achievements by students involved in bilingual education programs, most important of them turned out to be connected with leadership (Montecel & Cortez, 2004). The organization admits that the amount of bilingual children in the USA is so large that there is not enough teaching staff to provide them with an adequate education. Lack of equal educational opportunity for LEP students was recognized as one of the major failures of bilingual education programs back in 1973. However, it should be noted that since then the standards have changed and the accumulated experience led to considerable improvements. Montecel & Cortez mention that extensive research has proven that bilingual education, when it is well implemented, is the most efficient way of learning English for LEP children.

It is understandable that for the sake of the child’s better and more reliable acquisition of language, the optimal beginning time of participation in the bilingual program is in elementary school. The length of participation in bilingual education, however, may vary according to the method applied. There are also regional distinctions for the length of participation. For instance, in New York and Washington there is a three-year limit for LEP students, in California and Arizona it is even less: LEP children are limited to a year of sheltered English immersion (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). Besides, in California students are enrolled in structured English immersion programs that are finished with the general assessment of their English proficiency as such having “good working knowledge” (Gold, 2006). As it is claimed that there is no single exhaustive definition of limited English proficiency, various criteria are taken into consideration when deciding whether a child can take part in a bilingual education program which sooner or later has to be substituted by entering mainstream classes.

The efficiency of bilingual education programs can be realized in comparison with other methods. The most widespread opponent of bilingual two-way immersion in English immersion. The question is: Which program can produce better academic results for children? There have been reported cases when children graduated from high schools not being fluent in English. Some of the school principals assess the academic achievements of students who were taught within the English immersion program higher than those who were applied bilingual approaches to (Maxwell, 2011). In such a way, bilingual education divides society into two groups: those who support it and those who resist it. The most zealous opponents of bilingual education claim that there is “no place for the native language in American schools on either account” (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). They maintain that the presence of the native language in the education process will neither develop native language skills nor promote English proficiency. Moreover, they tend to ascribe such educational failures as high dropout rates of LEP students solely to their participation in bilingual education programs (Theobald, 2003). The proponents claim that LEP students being taught in two languages have better opportunities for long-term achievements (Jost, 2009). Theobald quotes the study that can be regarded as a response to the claims of opponents of bilingual education: it was revealed that promoting multiculturalism may actually reduce dropout rates of LEP children. Such findings suggest that language is not the only factor ensuring the success of a certain educational program. Even if bilingual education programs are not focused on the native language culture, ever linguistic participation of students in such programs may help them not to feel alienated from it, and this component would be absent in case of involvement in mainstream education (Theobald, 2003). Bilingual education proponents also mention that the priority for children is to learn how to think, so simple mastering of language is not enough, especially for children for whom English is not a native language. The results of the studies carried in this direction are also controversial: outcomes range from the claims that students engaged in bilingual programs have the same or better academic achievement in English than those participating in English only programs to the replies manifesting the lack of clear evidence to support this idea (Gold, 2006).

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To support the idea of staff’s qualification for participation in bilingual education, a study carried out in California showed that teachers involved in bilingual programs have corresponding qualifications supported by CLAD or BCLAD (Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development) certificates (Gold, 2006).

The same study also revealed methods applied in bilingual education systems, which present both practical and methodological interest. Thus, there is only a limited amount of bilingual classes in each grade. Teachers and students are provided with full set of materials in both languages, however, some subjects are preferably taught in one language only: Spanish was used for the language arts class, and reading texts were presented in Spanish and English “in a flexible manner to promote English acquisition” (Gold, 2006). As for the division of languages in the temporal aspect, it can vary in different bilingual schools. Thus, a program of a Washington bilingual school, mentioned in the study of Pacific Policy Research Center (2010), is designed in such a way that half of time and resources are committed to English, and other half to Spanish. A method applied there is called pedagogical equity, for there are Spanish- and English speaking teachers for all classes. In terms of learning such a method can be assessed as balanced. The same research claims, supporting the idea of Gold, that in bilingual schools in California 90% of the time children are taught in the minority language and the rest 10% in English. Acquisition of peculiarities of phonetics, vocabulary and grammar is performed by the means of both languages and enhanced by translation exercises. Such an approach is based on a variety of instructional and visual language materials used for organizing the studying process and contributing to linguistic and cognitive development. Interactive strategies and techniques become part of the learning process in the most successful bilingual schools of California. Cultural linguistic aspect was also taken into consideration and children were encouraged to participate in cultural immersion projects in the fullest measure. An important socialization factor is mentioned: the class content did not change until the fifth grade, which led to the strengthening of friendly relationships later transferred to the whole community. Apart from academic achievements, the acquisition of valuable features for adult life is essential for education, and the study conducted by Gold proves it.

Background and justification. In order for the bilingual education program to succeed, a range of factors should be taken into consideration. According to the report of Pacific Policy Research Center (2011), these factors include minimum 4 years of bilingual instruction, the same curriculum as in mainstream programs, optimal language output, equal time of instruction in both languages, provision of additive bilingual environment, encouraging of cooperative learning between children with different English proficiency levels, and, finally, highly qualified personnel and home-school collaboration. The same quality measures can be almost fully transferred to two-way immersion programs; the optimum participation length in the program may vary depending on the goals of certain approaches which can stretch from the elementary school bilingual instruction to the prolongation of the program to the high school level.

The effectiveness of bilingual education two-way immersion programs is supported by the organization of the process when on the initiative stages the native language dominates as the instruction language in the so-called 90-10 model, designating the percentage of time of dealing with one language.

The learning environment for bilingual schools should be designed with the view that the participants are LEP students. Osorio-O’Dea (2001) mentions that the most favorable learning environment for such children is created when they acquire reading skills in their primary language at the same time grasping English speech. Proponents of bilingual education also mention that learning to read in the native language at first is a prudent approach due to the fact that a combination of reading and speaking activities in English may produce cognitive confusion leading to worse academic achievements. Moreover, studies show that from the level of reading proficiency in the native language one can make rather strong predictions about reading performance in English.

Bilingual education does not only facilitate proficiency in minor languages. In the long run, it affects the economic and social role of the nation. In such a way, the role of two-way immersion bilingual education programs can help bring up intelligent and skilled members of a society fully realizing the potential of their national heritage and ready to implement it in new linguistic and social circumstances.

Deficiencies in the evidence. A study by Gold (2006) revealed that most of the parents whose children were participants of bilingual programs did not have a college education and were employed as low-paid workers. It all resulted in considerably lower initial levels of English proficiency than the state average. According to Krashen (2004), a lot of children engaged in bilingual education stem from families with low-income rates. He connects this fact to the established idea that usually such a background means little access to books.

Pacific Policy Research Center (2011) report claims that two-way bilingual immersion programs are generally considered to be successful in terms of pedagogical applications, but the domain of academic achievements is considerably less researched. In such a way, when there is enough data on teaching techniques, information about the actual outcomes and efficiency of two-way immersion approach in bilingual education is lacking.

In some states, such as Hawaii, there exists a palpable lack of non-English native speakers eligible to teach in bilingual schools (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2011).

However, what concerns Puerto Rico specifically, the sphere of bilingual education is going to experience great improvements with the introduction of a “mandatory bilingual public-education program for all students on the islands” which started in summer 2012 (Marcano, 2012). The initiative is called “Generation Bilingual” and is aimed at achieving full language proficiency. In such a way, though experiencing some difficulties, the sphere of bilingual education has prospects to be successful with the introduction of a stable curriculum and annual reporting.

Possible Factors That Affect Student Engagement in Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is aimed at LEP children, and they should be the measure of distinguishing successful practices from the failing ones. Osorio-O’Dea claims that a lot of factors define what types of educational methods are the best choices for certain children. They depend both on the students and teachers and include, but not limited to age, educational background, training of staff and even quality of the material. She maintains that involvement of the person’s native language might be useful “at times” only, whereas other techniques not focusing on it have also proven to be successful in some cases. Research on children experiencing reading difficulties carried out in the early 2000s, quoted by Osorio-O’Dea, supports the idea that the best learning environment for LEP children is acquiring reading skills in their native language combined with speaking activities in English. It is mentioned that bilingual education is successful only when respective methodological guides, materials, and staff are available locally. It is implied that frequently such conditions are not complied with, and it leads to failing results and the growth of social disapproval of bilingual education at large. The analyst’s conclusions, however vague they may be, generally present the approach to bilingual education in terms that opinion about it is a relative issue with as many benefits and flaws as a certain party wants to see. What concerns this dissertation is that qualitative results based on facts are of higher importance.

Some of the factors that influence students’ participation in bilingual programs do not depend either on them or on their parents and are defined by policymakers, making the issue rather local. Thus, the political dimension of the problem finds its manifestation in the fact that some children, born and raised in the USA, have to attend bilingual classes only to fill the state’s quota of bilingual teachers. However, what concern the USA, The responses are rather regional. Although the highest concentration of LEP students can be observed in five states (New York, Florida, Illinois, Texas, California), it is generally estimated that LEP children are educated in 46% of American school districts (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). Texas is generally considered to have the least problems concerning LEP students: if there is a substantial amount of such children in some districts, local schools are provided with special programs and qualified teachers (Theobald, 2003). And if the findings of Maxwell are applicable to California where the amount of bilingual classes seems to be overwhelming, the situation in neighboring Arizona and Nevada, one of the states with the largest population of immigrants with LEP, is opposite. Children of non-American descent suffer from the states` decision to refuse bilingual education in favor of so-called “sheltered English immersion” (Jost, 2009). States often do not provide enough funding for educating English-language learners despite a high percentage of local LEP students (Maxwell, 2011).

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There is also a definite tendency of the prevalence of other first-language groups apart from Spanish, the dominating native language of LEP individuals, and these languages are considerably less similar to English than Spanish. There exists a certain instruction material shortage for other native languages used in bilingual education, while considerably greater amount and availability of materials in Spanish is an acknowledged fact. It should not be ignored, though, that there are more than 100 native languages for LEP students (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001). In terms of prevalence, Spanish is followed by Chinese. But French, Italian, and German have lost their top positions held in 1990, and as of 2010, they are not considered to be the most widespread native languages in America (Maxwell, 2011). Of course, one should understand that as a national policy education is a subject of politics, thus certain biases and manipulations in this sphere are unavoidable. In this regard, Jost offers a very prudent conclusion: children who learn English still have problems whether they study in English-only classes or involved in bilingual education.

Methods of bilingual education. Methods of bilingual education may refer to a set of pedagogical practices with an inherent element of language teaching techniques and enhance the whole systemic approach. According to a report of the Center for Applied Linguistics (2007), methods of bilingual education include equitable interaction, targeted and varied teaching techniques, student-centered teaching and learning, sharing between learners and language through common task orientation. Scholars also delimit transitional, developmental, two-way (Osorio-O’Dea, 2001), maintenance and enrichment (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2011) models of bilingual education.

Purpose of the Study. Findings by Lindholm-Leary (2001) and Theobald (2003) support the idea that the reason of high school dropout rate for students involved in bilingual education programs is their insufficient English language proficiency, which is used by all-English classes opponents as an argument against the whole idea of educating children in two languages.

Summary. There is a great variety of bilingual education programs aimed at LEP students. The peculiarity of the two-way immersion program is simultaneous exposure to both languages starting at initial stages with fluctuating percentage of time devoted to instruction in these languages.

Students involved in bilingual education programs face a lot of limitations, and the effectiveness of a certain project depends on overcoming these limitations. The components of success include the full provision of teaching staff and materials as well as the active support of parents and community who often initiate such endeavors. Despite a few examples of schools where bilingual education produces considerable academic achievements, the lack of statistics based on the wider sample selection is palpable. Lack of broad scientific thought on the subject makes it difficult to assess.

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