Chapter 7: The Effectiveness Question
By James Crawford

Narrow Focus on Language
Federal Research Agenda
Flawed Evaluation Studies
AIR Report
Methodology Matters
Role of Theory
Basic vs. Evaluation Research
Standards of Scientific ‘Proof ’
Baker–de Kanter Report
Willig’s Meta-Analysis
Rossell and Baker vs. Greene

Does bilingual education really work? Politicians and pundits remain obsessed with this simplistic issue, a perennial focus of journalistic investigation and partisan debate. Never mind that most researchers and practitioners in language- minority education feel they answered the question long ago. Four decades of experience in the classroom, refinements in curriculum and methodology, and gains in student achievement have made believers out of countless parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members. While generalizations are problematic – the label bilingual education describes a variety of pedagogies, some better designed and implemented than others – there is no question that bilingual approaches have helped to dismantle language barriers for millions of English learners since 1968. Data from numerous scientific studies support this conclusion, while data supporting the effectiveness of all-English approaches remain shaky at best.

Does this mean that using students’ mother tongue in the classroom always “works,” that it guarantees rapid progress in English and academic content areas? Of course not. Language of instruction is no more the sole determinant of success for Tagalog- , or Russian- , or Crow-speaking students than it is for Englishspeaking students. Often it plays a less significant role in achievement than factors such as program design and resources, teacher qualifications, administrative leadership, school culture, parental and community influences, and socioeconomic status, to name a few. Moreover, as a program component, language may be used in various ways, to foster various goals: additive, subtractive, assimilationist, pluralist (see Chapter 2). Why, then, has so much heated discussion surrounded the question: Which “method” is more effective – bilingual or English-only instruction?

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