Bilingual education yields big payoff for state's students
San Antonio Express-News

Patricia Sánchez

In his recent comment, Dan Montgomery criticized the so-called "costs" and "ineffectiveness" of bilingual education ("Bilingual education costly, ineffective," Sept. 25).

What dismay that a member of our own State Board of Education did not cite one research study to support his views, especially when there are so many avenues in which to find these.

Even so, I am not surprised by this lack of information or effort in securing accurate data. Many educators in this country, as well as the average citizen, know little about bilingual education, its purpose and its effectiveness. Instead, what they do know is often based on the political rhetoric provided by the mainstream media or conservatives.

There is ample evidence over the past 25 years that bilingual education, if well-funded and implemented, has positive and lasting effects on the academic achievement of English language learners.

Studies that attest to this include Burnham-Massey & Pina (1990); De la Garza & Medina (1985); Powers (1978); Saldate, Mishra, & Medina (1985); Thomas & Collier (2002); Willig (1985). Other well-known researchers in the field include Jim Cummins, Eugene García, Kenji Hakuta, Stephen Krashen, Carlos Ovando and Lily Wong Fillmore.

In addition, research on the effectiveness of bilingual education is also available online from the Center for Applied Linguistics at and the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence at

Another bit of misinformation brought up by Montgomery regards the way English should be introduced and taught to students. Speaking English conversationally is radically different from using it to understand academic content in a classroom setting.

So-called immersion programs favored by Montgomery deny students access to the educational curriculum because they force English-language learners to "sink or swim" when they could be achieving mastery of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, in their first language. These cognitive and academic gains pay off enormous dividends when students transition to full days of English.

Finally, conflating the recent school finance trial with the costs of bilingual education is a clumsy and feeble attempt to find a scapegoat for a systemic funding problem long overdue a change.

Funny how elected officials do not opine about the rights and educational programs of other students in our schools with particular learning needs: the gifted, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the physically and mentally challenged. These also cost taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars" for testing, placing, counseling, specific instructional strategies, services and personnel.

So can we please get back to the real issue — how Texas is going to provide equitable funding to all its schools and students — without marginalizing one particular set of children?

Patricia Sánchez is an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development, Division of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  'Smaller' may be key for U.S. high schools.