Immersion better for kids than bilingual classes, study says
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 6, 2004

 Louie Villalobos

Students in Arizona's Structured English Immersion classes learn at a faster pace than students who take bilingual education classes, according to a study released Thursday by the Arizona Department of Education.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said the study proves children who primarily speak a foreign language are better served by English-only instruction.

"When there is a debate, you want to keep people updated," Horne said. "I'm letting the public know what a scientific study is saying."

The National Association for Bilingual Education, however, called Horne's study "irresponsible," saying it does nothing to prove either instructional model is better and is nowhere near scientific.

The Arizona results showed students in immersion classes outperformed bilingual education students in every grade level between second and eighth grade in reading, language and math, based on Stanford 9 scores.

There starts to be a significant difference at the sixth-grade level, at which immersion students were more than one year ahead of the bilingual students in math.

By the eighth grade, there was at least a one-year difference in all three subjects.

"There is not a single exception," Horne said. "It tells us that the students in English immersion do substantially better."

The study was conducted during the 2002-03 school year and used the Stanford 9, a national, norm-referenced exam, to measure what the students had learned.

The study is not meant to prove that students will show significant progress over a span of six grade levels. It just proves how much more students in immersion classes had learned than those in bilingual classes, Horne said.

Because the immersion program is already in place, Horne said no change in policy will result from the study. All students who took part in the study are now in the immersion program as part of the voter-approved English immersion law of 2000, which Horne began enforcing in 2003.

James Crawford, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, said the study proves nothing and challenged Horne to fund an extensive study that accounts for outside factors, such as level of poverty or the student's initial knowledge of English.

Crawford said it is irresponsible for a state organization, and its superintendent, to prove an "ideological" teaching method by "misusing" one set of test scores.

"It's really a crapshoot for kids to subject them to a kind of approach that has no track record," Crawford said. "It's really a waste of taxpayer dollars."

Horne responded to Crawford's criticism by insisting his study is valid and conclusive.

"We are relying on science," he said. "And they're stuck in ideology."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-6940.