A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly reports on a meta-analysis potential benefits of dual-language education for young children who speak languages other than English. Another finding is that there is very little quality research out there that attempts to explore issues of development among young dual-language learners. A review of the study can be found here.
USA Today reports on a new study in the journal Neurology in which Indian researchers assessed the associations between bilingualism and onset of dementia among 648 patients (391 bi/multilinguals) who were all diagnosed with dementia. Controlling for lots of things like literacy levels, immigration status, education, and gender, the researchers found that onset of dementia was delayed by approximately 5 years among bilinguals as compared with their monolingual counterparts. This study is not particularly novel, but it's interesting because: 1) it's coming out of India and not Canada; 2) it's a naturalistic, not a laboratory study; 3) it takes into account natural variations in the general population like literacy, immigration, etc.; 4) it's messy, with missing data and the like. The analyses are simple and the findings are basic but compelling. Using multiple languages in daily life requires greater cognitive attention and flexibility, resulting in greater mental stamina which delays onset of dementia. Cite for the actual study is: Alladi, S. Bak, T.H., Duggirala, V., Surampudi, B., Shailaja, M., Shhukla, A.K., Chaudhuri, J.R., & Kaul, S. (2013). Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology, 81, 1 - 7.
Nice article in the Washington Post magazine profiles a young man named Daniel Chen, a second generation child of Chinese immigrants from Shanghai, and tells the story "about the isolating power of a lost mother tongue and an education spent retrieving it". Like many such stories, it is complex, involving movement, translation, frustration, and determination. The author details the phenomenon of first language attrition, which I have documented in my own research, spends some space on the critical period, and does an overall nice job of linking language development and loss within the larger contexts of immigration and family cohesion. Definitely worth a read.
For an entire K-12 schooling generation, Massachusetts has been implementing its voter-approved law governing the education of English language learners, which makes bilingual education effectively illegal in the state. In the text of the law, the reasoning is made clear: Bilingual education is to blame. Indeed, bilingual programs' "failure over past decades is demonstrated by the low English literacy levels of those children". Those children. The lunacy of the law continues in its treatment of second language acquisition, in which we are told that English learners "can easily acquire full fluency and literacy in a new language, such as English, if they are taught that language in the classroom as soon as they enter school". Easily acquire. Thanks to legislative intervention, 2-way bilingual programs were exempted from the English-only provisions of this law, but at the time (and currently) these programs were few and far between.
In the span of the past 13 years, Massachusetts has drawn the interest of federal civil rights officials who found that Boston and 2 other districts were underserving their bilingual learners and required the state to take action. This resulted in the state's current initiative, in which all in-service teachers are required to take the RETELL, a 20-hr. PD sequence focused on how to best serve ELLs in English-only content settings. On the pre-service side, teacher training institutions (like Boston College) have had to provide evidence as to how the content of our courses meets state requirements for teaching ELLs (note that this is happening 13 years after the implementation of the law). It is clear that Structured English immersion (SEI) has taken full hold in our state, with legitimate questions about the language rights of children and families.
With Thomas Menino exiting as mayor after 20 years, we have two candidates interested in education in Boston, and one of their points of interest is 2-way bilingual education. Here is a brief post from EdWeek that provides an overview. The fact that this aspect of ELL education is starting to gain traction in Boston is heartening, and while 2-way is not ideal for all students, schools, or districts (there are implementation difficulties that always need addressing), one hopes that this development represents an initial thaw in the ice age of SEI in Massachusetts.
Of course, equally important is that a new law be on the books in Massachusetts; one that is not a nationalist document that posits ethnocentric grand narratives such as "Immigrant parents are eager to have their children become fluent and literate in English, thereby allowing them to fully participate in the American Dream of economic and social advancement". Native language programs are no better or worse than science education programs in that they must be done well to show evidence of success.
So while Boston's move toward 2-way is laudable, lawmakers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would do well to show the political courage to implement a law that provides district choice across a variety of program options; a law that shows respect for our bilingual children and families; a law that can be implemented without resulting in denial of educational access to school-age children in Massachusetts.
ImmigrationProf Blog has a good summary of a recent set of laws in California that have been enacted to protect immigrants' rights in the state. They invoke California's Proposition 187 as an indicator of how much the state has changed since the middle 90's, and lay out the range of laws that have been implemented. The changes are explained with one simple factor: a growing Latino population in the state = greater voting power. They follow up with another particularly good law (AB 263) that is "designed to stop unscrupulous employers from retaliating against immigrant workers who stand up for their rights". In the past couple decades, California's right-leaning ideologies have spread eastward. Maybe these new approaches toward humane treatment of people will make a similar cross-country effect.
Judit Moschkovich and colleagues at Stanford's 'Understanding Language' project have released a series of documents and instructional templates designed to provide teachers with conceptual and practical resources for working with English learning students around mathematics in elementary and secondary settings. There are 4 major components of the release: 1) an introduction to the materials; 2) general principles for mathematics instruction; 3) guidelines for math instructional materials development; and 4) "Language of Math" mask templates. The latter is meant to provide practical applications of 1 - 3. Embedded in the problem-solving nature of the instruction are the language foci, which appear to be small-group and discussion-based, particularly as regards word problems, while also targeting more discrete skills instruction, including general vocabulary, syntax, and morphological awareness. Here's the link to the release.
From EdWeek: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is one of the two assessment consortia charged with designing the Common Core assessments in Math and Literacy, and the governing board of the PARCC recently voted to provide a Spanish version of the math test to states that have voiced a need. Surprisingly, Massachusetts asked to have such a test for high school. Not surprisingly, Arizona is not interested, even though both these PARCC member states share the same ludicrous and English-only law governing the education of English learning students.
Interesting new study in press at the Journal of Public Economics used regression discontinuity to address how Texas elementary school students performed when separated by districts that implemented Spanish-English bilingual education programs that those that didn't. In Texas, if a district enrolls 20 or more students from a common language background (in this case, Spanish), then that district is required to provide bilingual education. Less than 20, no bilingual education, but rather English-as-a-second-language (ESL). The researchers looked at districts that enrolled between 8 and 39 students from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. They looked at student performance on state test indicators and found, generally, that kids who attend schools in bilingual education districts did significantly better on achievement outcomes than kids enrolled in ESL districts. However, those significant differences were driven by the performance of the kids who did not receive language services, that is, the English proficient students! There were no significant differences between the native Spanish speakers enrolled in bilingual or ESL districts.
The findings are interesting, but the real takeaway appears to be that keeping LEP kids away from EP kids is likely beneficial to the EP kids but a wash for the LEP children. This was one of the arguments used by pro-bilingual education forces in Colorado when a measure proposing the elimination of bilingual education was on the ballot in 2002 (see Escamilla, Shannon, Carlos, & García, 2003).
EdWeek reports that the Smarter Balanced consortium, one of the two national consortia charged with creating the tests that will be aligned with the Common Core standards, recently announced the nature of the supports that will be allowed during their assessments. The announcement included accommodations for both students with disabilities and English learners. The tests have three categories of digital features: "universal tools, which are available to all students; designated supports, which are available to students at a teacher’s or school team’s discretion; and documented accommodations, which are supports that are a part of a student’s individualized education plan or other disability support plan". Perhaps most interesting (to me, at least) is the inclusion of limited translation options, as a designated support, for the math portion of the assessment. This includes the provision of word-to-word translation as well as full item translation.
Currently the full array will be available in Spanish with a more limited set of options in Vietnamese and Arabic. The point is also made that these supports are "designated" because some states may have laws that preclude any type of instruction or assessment in a language other than English (read: AZ and MA), though supporters note that, with increasing standardization of how ELs are assessed (via the WIDA) there may be a rigorous basis for comparing whether these supports aid performance for students in states that use them and states that don't. Here is the release from the consortium itself.
The ever bilingual-friendly Huffington Post recently reported on a new study in Frontiers of Psychology by a student of Judith Kroll, who is a noted figure in bilingualism and cognition. The HuffPost titles the piece, "Bilinguals Have Higher Level Of Mental Flexibility, Research Shows", clearly quoting a press release issued to psychcentral.com in which the reporter states that "Penn State researchers discovered that as bilingual speakers learn to switch languages seamlessly, they develop a higher level of mental flexibility" (emphasis added). However, the study itself (conducted with balanced Spanish-English bilingual adults) essentially indexed the response time of accurately reading cognates or non-cognates that were highlighted in a Spanish or English sentence. Cognates were read with faster response times than non-cognates, suggesting that bilinguals have both their languages active even when reading monolingually. However, nowhere in the study is there a comparison to, say, a monolingual control group that would allow one to conclude that bilinguals possess a "higher level" of mental flexibility. Rather, the results confirm existing notions of a common conceptual store of information that is equally accessible irrespective of language, and that bilinguals are linguistically unique language users.
I like positive press for bilingualism and its benefits, but sometimes it seems like ideology has us drawing conclusions that range outside the data.