6 potential brain benefits of bilingual education
Part of our ongoing series exploring how the U.S. can educate the nearly 5 million students who are learning English.
Brains, brains, brains. One thing we've learned at NPR Ed is that people are fascinated by brain research. And yet it can be hard to point to places where our education system is really making use of the latest neuroscience findings.
But there is one happy nexus where research is meeting practice: Bilingual education. "In the last 20 years or so, there's been a virtual explosion of research on bilingualism," says Judith Kroll, a professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Again and again, researchers have found, "bilingualism is an experience that shapes our brain for a lifetime," in the words of Gigi Luk, an associate professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.
At the same time, one of the hottest trends in public schooling is what's often called dual-language or two-way immersion programs.
Traditional programs for English-Language Learners, or ELLs, focus on assimilating students into English as quickly as possible. Dual-language classrooms, by contrast, provide instruction across subjects to both English natives and English learners, in both English and in a target language.
The goal is functional bilingualism and biliteracy for all students by middle school.
New York City, North Carolina, Delaware, Utah, Oregon and Washington State are among the places expanding dual-language classrooms.
The trend flies in the face of some of the culture wars of two decades ago, when advocates insisted on "English first" education. Most famously, California passed Proposition 227 in 1998. It was intended to sharply reduce the amount of time that English-language learners spent in bilingual settings.
Proposition 58, passed by California voters on Nov. 8, largely reversed that decision, paving the way for a huge expansion of bilingual education in the state that has the largest population of English-language learners.
Some of the insistence on English-first was founded in research produced decades ago, in which bilingual students underperformed monolingual English speakers and had lower IQ scores.
Today's scholars, like Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, now say that research was "deeply flawed."
"Earlier research looked at socially disadvantaged groups," agrees Antonella Sorace 6 potential brain benefits of bilingual education | 89.3 KPCC: