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Bulletin board of Chinese radicals at the Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila

Bilingual Instruction Benefits English Learners


In one of the first long-term, large-scale studies on bilingual education, SFUSD and Stanford collaborated to research the effectiveness of different English Learner programs to find that bilingual instruction benefits English Learners, especially in the long run. While students in programs that immerse them in English show earlier benefits, dual-language immersion program participants catch up with or even surpass their peers around middle school.

The results of the study are particularly relevant for San Francisco, which has around 17,000 English Learners. Thirty percent of them are enrolled in bilingual education programs, compared to the five percent statewide. Although the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998 required public schools to teach English Learner students in a majority-English environment, students can join a bilingual education program as long as their parents sign a waiver.

"We haven't actually [been] deterred from our goal of bilingualism," said Christina Wong, SFUSD special assistant to the superintendent, with regard to the proposition. "We were very pleased [by the study results], and it really helps justify the investment the district has made over a number of years to this effort."

For SFUSD, bilingual programs have been in demand with parents, especially dual-immersion programs that have English Learners and native English speakers together in the same classroom learning each other’s language.

The Stanford-SFUSD study followed a group of around 18,000 English Learner students from 2002 to 2010 and examined factors such as the students’ English proficiency, the type of program they were enrolled in, and their native language.

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