Good teachers trump bilingual ed

English Learner students were excelling in Diamond Lake, a half-Hispanic school district in northern Illinois. The percentage of ELs reading proficiently had soared from 33 percent in 2004 to 71 percent; math proficiency rose from 49 percent to 79 percent. Then the state cut off funding, discovering that Diamond Lakes had dropped bilingual classes in favor of teaching in English with extra support in Spanish only as needed. After a big fight, the district got its EL funding back. Superintendent Roger Prosise explains what works (pdf) on the Lexington Institute site.

First, you need good teachers. Diamond Lakes can find good English-speaking teachers and reading specialists to teach small elementary classes but couldn’t find enough good bilingual teachers. You need good instructional materials: They’re available in English but scarce in Spanish and even scarcer in Polish, Chinese, etc.

The district also has a successful dual-language program: Half the students are Spanish speakers usually from low-income families and half are English speakers typically from middle-class families. They learn half the day in English and half in Spanish. The middle-class parents act as watchdogs, making sure the instruction meets high standards. In the years when Hispanic children were segregated in bilingual classes, their immigrant parents accepted the low achievement without complaint, Prosise writes.

About Joanne


  1. Maybe this is obvious, but the biggest problem with bilingual education is that it’s all too often monolingual at the expense of English. Such classes are simply not productive. In the cases of very young kids, who absorb language like sponges, they’re often unnecessary in any case.

    I watched my Spanish-speaking 6-year-old niece learning English on the playground while not being exposed to it in her “bilingual” school class. Her mom and I went to the school and got her transferred into an ESL class where she was taught exclusively in English. Within months she spoke as though she’d been born here.

  2. They all read fluidly, too–even the Salvadoran boy, who showed up in December not speaking a word of English. “I wouldn’t let them put him in those bilingual classes,” she told me. He read aloud as well as all the others, and spoke without a trace of an accent–after 6 months with Mrs. Barton.

    From my post called Superteacher about Mrs. Barton.

  3. I’m struggling this year with Asian students. They are enrolled in the regular classes, but are hesitant to speak. Is there anything I can do to encourage them to vocalize more? Their reading and writing skills are OK, but they need to practice more.