Chapter 9: Considering Program Alternatives
By James Crawford

Canadian Immersion Models
Additive vs. Subtractive Bilingualism
Time-on-Task Hypothesis
Research on Immersion in U.S.
Ramírez Report
Age-on-Arrival Studies
De Facto Bilingual Education
How Long To Acquire English?
Thomas-Collier Report
Controlled Study in Miami

Jim Cummins and Stephen Krashen could hardly be stronger advocates for bilingual education. Yet their work raises a series of logical questions about the potential value of alternative approaches in educating English learners:

  • • If comprehensible input is the key ingredient in acquiring English, why is native-language instruction necessary? Is bilingual education, with its funding demands, teacher shortages, and political headaches, the best pedagogical alternative?
  • • If communication-based ESL looks promising, especially when combined with sheltered English techniques for teaching other subjects, why not devote more efforts to perfecting all-English programs?
  • • If English-speaking children in Québec can learn French through total immersion in the early grades, with all subjects taught in the second language, why can’t language-minority children learn English in the same way in the United States?

These issues have come up repeatedly since the Baker–de Kanter report became public in 1981. After reviewing the research literature, this Education Department study concluded: “The case for the effectiveness of transitional bilingual education is so weak that exclusive reliance on this instructional method is clearly not justified.” Baker and de Kanter advanced an alternative they hailed as “uniformly successful” wherever it had been evaluated: structured immersion. As late as 1985, however, only nine “pure immersion programs” existed nationwide, according to Keith Baker, citing a survey by SRA Technologies as it embarked on a long-term, federally funded evaluation of this methodology (also known as the Ramírez report).

Thus far the bulk of research evidence about immersion has come from Canada, where the methodology has proven quite successful with language-majority children. Immersion “may or may not” be appropriate for language-minority children in the United States, Baker and de Kanter conceded, but it “shows enough promise” that, at minimum, it should be tried. To evaluate this argument, it is necessary to examine what the Canadian immersion model is and is not.

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