New Jersey bucks the tide on Reading for English-Learners

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 10 14:30:26 UTC 2007

N.J. Bucks Tide on Reading for English-Learners
State cites studies finding advantage for bilingual approach.

By Mary Ann Zehr

Orange, N.J.

Taking a position that is unusual these days, New Jersey officials are
promoting research that says bilingual education methods have an edge over
English-only methods in teaching English-language learners to read. Recent
U.S. Department of Education publications with research-based
recommendations for teaching English-learners have avoided addressing the
same research that Garden State officials are endorsing. And many school
districts in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts have abandoned
bilingual education after voters approved state ballot measures to curtail
the educational approach. Since 1976, New Jersey has required bilingual
educationin which students are taught some subjects in their native
language while learning Englishfor school districts with at least 20
students in the same language group. Over the past three years, the state
has added requirements for districts to provide Spanish instruction for
several early-reading initiatives, including state implementation of the
federal Reading First program.

Now, New Jersey appears to be the only state that has written into its
Reading First grant application to the federal government that
native-language instruction is required, with some exceptions, for
children who arrive at school with no proficiency in English. Districts in
Illinois and Texas, which also have state laws requiring bilingual
education, are also using Reading First money for Spanish materials. But
those states havent required bilingual education in their Reading First
applications. Russell W. Rumberger, the director of the Linguistic
Minority Research Institute at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, applauded New Jersey officials for taking what he views as an
evidence-based approach.

The research is increasingly supporting the idea that bilingual education
is not only not bad, but is beneficial, he said. A Blended Approach At
Lincoln Avenue School here in Orange, a gritty suburb of Newark, the
states push for bilingual reading instruction means that on a recent day,
Latino 1st graders who didnt know much English first read a story about a
rat in English, and then followed it up with a different story about a rat
in Spanish.

During the 120-minute literacy block, Enid Shapiro Unger, an
English-as-a-second-language teacher, and Maria Albuquerque-Malaman, a 1st
grade classroom teacher, used the same themeanimals and their homesto
teach in both English and Spanish. Under Reading First, the state requires
that at least 30 minutes of that block be in English. With bilingual
education, said Ms. Albuquerque-Malaman, the transition from the mother
language to the second language goes more smoothly than with English-only
instruction.  First-grade teacher Maria Albuquerque-Malaman delivers a
counting lesson in Spanish to a small group of students, including Joshua
Cespedes, in front of her, and Mauricio Aguilar, to her right, at Lincoln
Avenue School in Orange, N.J. Emile Wamsteker for Education WeekNot all
New Jersey teachers agree. I feel that bilingual methods hold the students
back, Charmaine Della Bella, the ESL teacher for Norwood Public School, a
K-8 school with 650 students that makes up the Norwood school district,
wrote in an e-mail message. She said ESL techniques have worked for the 17
English-learners in her school, all of whom are Korean. The district can
get a waiver from using bilingual education because of the difficulty of
finding teachers who speak Korean.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which governs the Reading First
program, doesnt say anything about what language must be used for reading
instruction, Chad Colby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education,
noted in an e-mail message. But regional and national meetings for Reading
First paid for by the federal department tend to feature English-only
programs as models, said Jeffrey Cohen, the lead consultant for Reading
First for the California Department of Education. California initially
wrote in its plan that Reading First money could be used only for English
instruction, but the state had to change that stance after losing a
lawsuit in 2003 brought by districts that demanded to use the money for
Spanish instruction and materials as well. About 10 percent of the states
Reading First classrooms provide instruction in Spanish, Mr.  Cohen said.

Research Cited

In New Jersey, Fred Carrigg, the special assistant for literacy to the
state education commissioner, is the engine behind the policy that
essentially calls for Spanish instruction for early reading. In 2003, the
state started requiring certain school districtsthose with a concentration
of Latino English-learners that receive Reading First grants or that get
court-ordered extra aid to offset their disadvantagesto provide two years
of Spanish instruction in kindergarten through grade 3. New Jerseys
Reading First application for federal funding provides two exceptions to
the general requirement for bilingual education: if districts dont have
enough children to warrant such a program, or if they dont have adequate
teachers or materials to carry one out. Mr. Carrigg said the second
exception isnt valid for Spanish-speaking students. Our attitude is that
if we are going to accept scientifically based reading research for the
general population, we must accept that same research base for children
who speak a language other than English, Mr.  Carrigg said.

He cites findings from two reviews of research to back the states
requirements. The first is Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young
Children, written by a panel headed by Harvard University reading expert
Catherine Snow and published by the National Research Council in 1998. The
other is Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the
National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth, edited by
second-language-acquisition expert Diane August and reading expert Timothy
Shanahan, and published last year by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

The National Research Council report says that if appropriate learning
materials and bilingual teachers are available, its best for children who
dont know English to be taught to read in their native language while
acquiring oral proficiency in English.  Then they can transfer their
reading skills from the native language to English. The National Literacy
Panel report contains a chapter with a review of studies that concludes
there is a small to moderate advantage for bilingual education over
English-only methods. The federal Department of Education paid $1.8
million for the National Literacy Panel to write that study, but then
declined to publish it;  department officials said it didnt stand up to
the peer-review process.  ("Not for Publication," Aug. 31, 2005.)

When asked why he puts stock in that publication, Mr. Carrigg said that
the federal governments criticism of the study concerned procedures and
process, not recommendations or results. He added: We note that fine line.
Implementation Varies But elsewhere, some officials have disregarded the
literacy panels finding that favors bilingual education. Margaret Garcia
Dugan, for example, who oversees programs for English-language learners
for the Arizona Department of Education and opposes bilingual education,
said the federal departments decision not to publish the study raised a
red flag for her, pointing to potential questions about its validity. How
New Jersey educators meet the states requirements for bilingual education

In the 5,400-student Orange district, Latino kindergartners through 6th
graders who are learning English are concentrated in a bilingual track in
a single elementary school, in which classes are made up only of Latino
children. In the 1st grade bilingual class in Orange, children sound out
words in English and Spanish during each mornings literacy block. By
contrast, in the 9,900-student Perth Amboy district, teachers generally
focus on teaching reading only in Spanish, complemented with instruction
only in oral English, for the first couple of years that a child with
limited proficiency in English is learning to read. Meanwhile, the
2,700-student Englewood district has 57 percent of its 290
English-learners in a dual-language program in which children who are
dominant in either English or Spanish learn both languages in the same

As evidence that the states policies are working, Mr. Carrigg says 50
percent of English-learners in 3rd grade are scoring at the proficient
level or above on the states language arts test, which they must take in
English. He added that 75 percent of former 3rd grade English-learners are
scoring at those levels. Among all 3rd graders, 82 percent scored at least
proficient on the test. Statewide, only 22 percent of 11th grade
English-learners are testing as proficient or above on New Jerseys
language arts exam. The scores arent surprising, Mr. Carrigg said, because
so many of those students are new to the country. The states focus on
having students learn to read in Spanish is concentrated at the K-2 level,
he added, and thus test scores for 3rd or 4th graders give a good
indication of how those efforts are working. The states next steps, Mr.
Carrigg says, are focused on expanding successful practices from the
elementary experience into the middle grades.

At the same time, he said, New Jersey has not made any efforts to
publicize our primary language policies. We are very cognizant of each
state having different policies and attitudes about the use of languages
other than English. Coverage of education research is supported in part by
a grant from the Spencer Foundation.

Vol. 26, Issue 18, Pages 1,12


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