The facilitation theory underlying bilingual education as just defined has two parts. The “threshold” hypothesis states that there is a threshold level of linguistic competence in the native language that all children must attain in order to avoid cognitive disadvantages, while the “developmental interdependence” hypothesis holds that the development of skills in a second language is facilitated by skills already developed in learning the first language. The implication is that children must first learn to read and write in their native tongue and should begin training in English literacy only after they have mastered their first language. Programs that deviate from this sequence violate the fundamental theory of bilingual education.
De Bruin isn’t refuting the notion that there are advantages to being bilingual: some studies that she reviewed really did show an edge. But the advantage is neither global nor pervasive, as . After her meta-analysis was complete, de Bruin and her adviser ran an additional series of studies, which they have just submitted for publication, hoping to find where the limits of bilingual advantage lie, and what the real advantage may actually look like. To test for a possible boost, they examined three different groups (English monolinguals, active English-Gaelic bilinguals who spoke Gaelic at home, and passive English-Gaelic bilinguals who no longer used Gaelic regularly). They had each group take part in four tasks—the Simon task, a task of everyday attention (you hear different tones and must count the number of low ones while filtering out the high ones), the Tower of London (you solve a problem by moving discs around on a series of sticks to match a picture of what the final tower looks like), and a simple task-switching paradigm (you see circles and squares that are either red or blue, and must pay attention to either one color or one shape, depending on the part of the trial).
Brain imaging studies show that when a bilingual person is speaking in one language, their ACC is continually suppressing the urge to use words and grammar from their other language. Not only that, but their mind is always making a judgment about when and how to use the target language. For bilinguals, with their exceptionally buff executive control, the flanker test is just a conscious version of what their brains do subconsciously all day long – it’s no wonder they are good at it.
Valentina Bali of Michigan State University found that in 1997-98 the Pasadena school district in southern California tested only 50 percent of its bilingual-education students, versus 89 percent of those who were in ESL programs. A 1998 Los Angeles school district report showed that bilingual-education students scored higher than students in English-immersion programs after five years. But only 61 percent of the bilingual-education students were tested, versus 97 percent of the students in the all-English program. Under these circumstances, the kind of casual comparisons made by the media of achievement before and after Proposition 227 and across school districts are risky. Moreover, any trends in aggregate achievement can be obscured by increases in the testing rates of the target population, as has happened in the wake of Prop 227 for English Learners. Evaluating the effect of Prop 227 on achievement is also complicated by the lack of data on student achievement broken down by which program they participated in.
He explains that "[v]ocabulary tests, SATs, GREs--those are tests that probe the absolute limits of your ability, and that's where we find that bilinguals have the disadvantage, where you know the word but you just can't get it out" (qtd in Schwartz).
Bilingual education’s 26-year reign in California was supposed to end with the voters’ passage of Proposition 227 in June 1998. The proposition declared:
To be bilingual means to possess the ability to speak two languages, and a society that implements a bilingual approach is one that adapts means of everyday life, ranging from street signs to education, to the inevitabilities of more than one language.
University Park, Pa. -- , distinguished professor of psychology, linguistics and women's studies and director of Penn State's Center for Language Science (CLS), has published numerous articles on the cognitive processes that underlie language, communication and bilingualism.
Today (June 2) in a syndicated public radio series, "Academic Minute," she offers an essay highlighting CLS research on the "mental exercise" that bilingual speakers perform that positively affects their brains -- and that can benefit new language learners as well.
Of course, there is often a disconnect between a law and its implementation, especially with an issue as controversial as bilingual education. State officials can subvert the law through interpretations that don’t conform to its intent; school districts can change their policies without making genuine changes in curriculum; or teachers can ignore the mandates, closing their classroom doors and doing as they please.
"Bilingual education began in 1968 as a small, $7.5 million federal program to help Mexican-American students, half of whom could not speak English well when they entered first grade" (Chavez 23).
Many modern language researchers agree with that premise. Not only does speaking multiple languages help us to communicate but bilingualism (or multilingualism) may actually confer distinct advantages to the developing brain. Because a bilingual child switches between languages, the theory goes, she develops enhanced executive control, or the ability to effectively manage what are called higher cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, memory, and thought. She becomes better able to inhibit some responses, promote others, and generally emerges with a more flexible and agile mind. It’s a phenomenon that researchers call .
What happened in the wake of Prop 227? The answer should be of interest in Massachusetts, which is currently implementing a similar proposition, and in other states contemplating ending bilingual education or otherwise considering how best to educate students whose native tongue is not English. My research reveals that resistance to the new law was, in many schools and districts, quite intense, indicating the depth of support for bilingual education among teachers and principals. Of course, such opposition was to be expected after state officials and interest groups spent the past few decades aggressively promoting bilingual education. Yet gradually the intent of the legislation has prevailed in most places, apparently to the benefit of English Learners, at least judging by test scores. To explain these findings, however, I need to begin with some fundamentals about a much misunderstood topic.
One would believe that the supporters of bilingual education are Latino's but in actuality they are black and white professionals who know the advantages of their children being bilingual....