The Bilingual Debate: English Immersion
By Lance T. Izumi
Take, for example, Sixth Street Prep, a charter elementary school in eastern Los Angeles County. The school’s students are overwhelmingly Hispanic and low income. More than a third of the students, many of whom are recent arrivals, are learning English. Yet, among fourth graders, an astounding 100 percent of the students tested at the proficient level on the 2008 state math exam. A nearly equally amazing 93 percent of fourth graders tested proficient on the state English-language-arts exam. This incredible success was achieved using a different ingredient than the one favored by Mr. Obama.
Sixth Street emphasizes review and practice, constant assessment of skills and a no-excuses attitude. Furthermore, and here’s where Mr. Obama should take note, according to Linda Mikels, Sixth Street’s principal, the school’s instructional approach for English learners is “full immersion.” English immersion emphasizes the near-exclusive use of English in content instruction. Ms. Mikels, who opposes bilingual education, told me, “we’ve had tremendous success with having a student who is brand new from Mexico and you would walk into a classroom 12 months later and you wouldn’t be able to pick out which one he was.” “It’s working,” she observed, “it’s working for us.”
I wonder why that seems to be the exception rather than the rule? I can't see bi-lingual education being as effective - it certainly never was in my experience.
Let's define effective while we're at it. The students should walk in knowing only their own language and walk out speaking fluent, if accented, English. To put it another way, in two years or less an immigrant student should be able to function in an exclusively English setting whether it be a community college or trade school or sales position at a car dealership in Iowa.
How do you pack twelve years of English education into two? By doing it 6x as often per day, i.e., immersion.
Seems simple to me.