Bilingual education has spillover effect

Sep 10, 2013
Bilingual education programs have a large spillover effect on the students they're not designed for, according to a study co-authored by Michigan State University scholar Scott Imberman. Credit: Michigan State University

Bilingual education programs have a substantial spillover effect on the students they're not designed for, according to a groundbreaking study co-authored by a Michigan State University scholar.

Texas who speak English as their home language and were enrolled in schools with programs performed much better on state math and reading tests than native English-speaking at schools without bilingual education programs.

The study did not explore the reasons why, but it could be because the English-speaking students received more while the Spanish-speaking students were receiving bilingual education in a separate setting.

While much research has examined the effects of bilingual education on Spanish-speaking students, this study is one of the first to investigate the spillover effects. The findings appear in the Journal of Public Economics.

"What this says is that simply focusing on how these programs affect the students who use them is missing a large part of the picture," said Scott Imberman, study co-author and MSU associate professor of economics and education. "Whenever you create education programs you have to think beyond the people they're targeted to, and think about the other students as well."

Federal law requires to provide special assistance to students with limited English proficiency, or LEP. To meet that requirement, districts typically offer one of two programs:

  • English as a Second Language, which typically involves pulling the LEP students out of the mainstream classroom for only certain periods for instruction in their
  • Or bilingual education, in which the LEP students generally are taught in a separate classroom for the entire day.

Educating the growing number of LEP students is one of the major challenges facing U.S. educators and policymakers today. About 1 in 9 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten to grade 12 were classified as LEP in 2008-09 – a marked increased from the ratio of 1 in 13 recorded a decade earlier.

In Texas, districts with 20 or more students in the same grade who have the same home language are required to offer those students bilingual education.

The researchers compared Texas elementary schools just below and just above the 20-student cutoff. They found that scores on standardized math and reading tests for native English speakers were significantly higher at schools with the bilingual education programs.

LEP students in schools with the bilingual education programs also scored higher on the tests, although there weren't enough students in the sample for the finding to be conclusive.

Overall, Imberman said, the findings bode well for proponents of bilingual education.

"As far as the question of whether bilingual education or ESL is better, this study provides some evidence suggesting that bilingual education is more helpful than ESL," he said.

Imberman's fellow researchers are Aimee Chin of the University of Houston and N. Meltem Daysal of the University of Southern Denmark.

Imberman has a joint appointment in MSU's Department of Economics in the College of Social Science and the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education in the College of Education.

Explore further: All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bilingual school counselors help narrow achievement gap

Aug 02, 2011

he fastest growing group of students in America's K-12 schools are Latino. Evidence-based programs addressing the unique language and cultural needs of that population are successful in narrowing the traditional achievement ...

Recommended for you

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

We're simply having an analogue Christmas time

Dec 23, 2014

The British Christmas that Charles Dickens serves up to us is rich in food and warmth, two things that in his day were often thinly stretched throughout the year in many homes. These days, for most of the y ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.