But in any case, a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers usually makes it impossible. For example, public schools in California enrolled recently arrived immigrants from 136 different countries in 1994, but bilingual teachers were certified in only 17 languages - 96% of them in Spanish. To the extent that LEP [ESL] children received help in other tongues, they received it almost entirely from teacher aides" (Crawford, 1997, "Babel' in the Schools"). A combined blend of immersion and resource support, or a transitional approach is often necessary from an administrative and logistical as well as an ideological point-of-view -- there are simply not enough teachers.
What approach is best?
Beyond the rhetorical fury of those who are 'English Only' advocates, devout multiculturalists, or concerned parents, it is often hard to find unbiased, quality research about the outcomes of current programs and strategies. The most sophisticated evaluation study of different approaches was "a four-year, longitudinal study of 2,000 Spanish-speaking students in five states" and found that 'late-exit,' developmental bilingual programs proved superior to 'early-exit,' transitional bilingual and English-only immersion" produced better rates of growth in English reading and mathematics (Crawford, 1997, "Bilingual Education"). But some researchers have rejected the comparison as invalid because all three programs were not tested in the same school districts.
No study is conclusive, or broad enough to provide an answer. However, linguistic developmental specialists outside of the politicized debate have supported the idea that total immersion hampers long-term academic success of ESL students, even if it is not immediately obvious through immediately collected data. "A premature transition to all-English classrooms seems to retard academic achievement...there are two types of [language] proficiency. One is exemplified by the speech children use on the playground, interpersonal communication that is high in context and low in cognitive demands. The other is more complex, involving the ability to manipulate verbal symbols without the aid of physical gestures or oral feedback: the kind of language needed for abstract reasoning...children need much less time to develop conversational proficiency in a second language (one to two years) than academic proficiency (five to seven years)" (Crawford, 1992). Hence, the paradox that children who may be able to joke with English speaking friends or help their non-native speaking parents navigate the grocery store will not necessarily feel the same comfort level doing a biology lab as their native-speaking peers.
Bilingual programs may serve as "a linguistic enrichment with possible cognitive advantages" for all students, and the interactive process between ESL students and English speakers can be enriching for both (Cromwell, 1998 "The Bilingual Education Debate: Part II"). In today's multilinguistic and multicultural society, all students can and must deal with diversity, thus some exposure between ESL and native students may prove beneficial, but support in other academic areas is necessary to ensure that ESL students meet the standards of the law, and have the same chance to be educated in all subject areas as their native-speaking peers.
A fundamental paradigm shift is needed. Instead of asking what is the correct 'image' of American education, educators must ask what is the best way to teach students, and embark upon long, rather than short-term research studies of a variety of transitional approaches to determine the right way to strike an effective balance between English education immersion and bilingual support in other academic areas. The approaches must be logistically feasible, given the limited resources of many ESL programs, but must attempt to improve student's academic performance in the long, rather than the short-term. A slow, transitional, combined approach seems to be supported in developmental theories of linguistic development and the research that exists regarding the different approaches: immersive, transitional, and developmental. Although further long-term study is needed, the currently popular immersive approach and approaches that fast-track ESL students into 'regular' classrooms serve the electoral needs of politicians better than the educational needs of ESL students.
Berlitz. (2007). Official Webpage. Retrieved 9 Jul 2007 at http://www.berlitz.com/
Crawford, James. (1997). "Babel' in the Schools." Our World. Retrieved 9 Jul 2007 at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JWCRAWFORD/can-bil.htm