Serious Accusations, Hard Data, 
and Media Myopia

by Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California 

Media reports on the bilingual education panel at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists meeting in Phoenix (21 June 2001) missed some extremely important exchanges. 

Panelists Ron Unz and Ruben Navarrette made extraordinary accusations. Unz stated that the educational researchers who claim to provide evidence supporting bilingual education are "making things up." We are, in other words, being accused of lying and fabricating data. Navarrette, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, claimed that research with conclusions favorable to bilingual education is "bought and paid for and brokered." In other words, educational researchers, in his view, have sold out. These accusations are serious, and they are unprecedented.

I attended this session. When the moderator opened the session to questions and comments from the audience, I presented a list of research results. These results showed that, contrary to claims made by critics of bilingual education, 

  • children in properly organized bilingual programs acquire English as least as quickly as children in all-English programs and usually acquire English faster;
  • children in bilingual programs drop out less than comparison children in all-English programs;
  • children do not "languish" in bilingual programs for years; and
  • bilingual programs are not "all-Spanish," but provide a substantial amount of English instruction from the very beginning.
I also provided evidence that Proposition 227 does not deserve credit for the increase of test scores in California. Test scores improved for all children, including those in bilingual programs and those who were never in bilingual programs. Test scores typically go up when new tests are introduced, and the new SAT9 was introduced at the same time 227 became law.

I distributed a list of publications, largely from from professional journals, supporting these claims, studies done by  dozens of scholars at many universities around the world. Their results are very consistent. It is inconceivable that all of these respected scholars are "making things up" and that they have all taken bribes.

What did the newspaper reports of the panel cover? Maria Peneda of the Latino Reporter ("Panelists clash over bilingual education") devoted a substantial percentage of her report to a misunderstanding about my participation on the panel, but did not discuss any of the real issues. Daniel González, the organizer of the panel, devoted nearly his entire report in the Arizona Republic to Ron Unz's statements about politicians' reluctance to condemn bilingual education, and Unz's new campaign to dismantle bilingual education in Colorado (note the title of his report: "Bilingual-ed foe speaks out; Decries lack of federal action"). Louis Aguilar of the Denver Post included a brief mention of the panel in his column on Unz's new campaign in Colorado ("Unz willing to pay for bilingual-ed fight"), quoting Unz's statement that "bilingual education is a failure."

Peneda got one thing right. She noted that all four panelists "agreed that the issue of bilingual education is complex and has not been thoroughly covered by the media." Her article, and those of her colleagues, only contributed to this lack of coverage.

Journalists may respond by saying that the panel was not a research forum, but was a discussion of the media's coverage of bilingual education. Two of the three reports, however, repeated Unz's unsubstantiated and incorrect claims that bilingual education has 
been a failure. One could also respond by saying that the reporters dealt with panelists' statements, not with comments from the floor. But panelists Mickey Ibarra of the National Education Association and Josué González of Arizona State University clearly and distinctly stated that bilingual education has been a success. None of the reporters noted this.

Another important feature of the panel not mentioned in the newspaper reports was the fact that only about 20 journalists showed up to attend the session. The conference was attended by about 1000 Hispanic journalists from all over the United States, and there were only a few other sessions going on at the same time.