Beyond Adversarial Discourse:
Searching for Common Ground
in the Education of Bilingual Students

Presentation to the California State Board of Education
February 9, 1998
Sacramento, California

by Jim Cummins
University of Toronto

As someone whose research and theory has influenced policy on the education of bilingual students for more than 20 years, I have watched the growing acrimony surrounding this issue with some dismay. The crucially important debate regarding what types of educational interventions are likely to reverse the underachievement of many bilingual students has degenerated into the adversarial discourse of courtroom lawyers with each side trying to "spin" the interpretation of research to fit its strongly held beliefs.

From the time of my initial publications on this topic, I have argued that the research on bilingual education both in North America and from around the world is highly consistent in what it shows. I have also suggested that the research data can be largely accounted for by three theoretical principles that permit accurate predictions regarding student outcomes from any well-implemented bilingual program. I am therefore disturbed to see what I have written sometimes misunderstood and misapplied by advocates of bilingual education and almost invariably distorted beyond recognition by opponents of bilingual education.

I have also argued (e.g. Cummins, 1981a, 1986) that bilingual education by itself is no panacea. The reasons why some groups of culturally diverse students experience long-term persistent underachievement have much more to do with issues of status and power than with linguistic factors in isolation. Thus, educational interventions that challenge the low status that has been assigned to a linguistic or cultural group are much more likely to be successful than those that reinforce this low status. It follows that a major criterion for judging the likely efficacy of any form of bilingual education or all-English program is the extent to which it generates a sense of empowerment among culturally diverse students and communities by challenging the devaluation of students' identities in the wider society.

In principle, the incorporation of students' primary language into the instructional program should operate to challenge the devaluation of the community in the wider society, and thus contribute to students' academic engagement. Strong promotion of students' primary language literacy skills not only develops a conceptual foundation for academic growth but also communicates clearly to students the value of the cultural and linguistic resources they bring to school. However, only a small proportion of bilingual programs (specifically two-way bilingual immersion and developmental [late-exit] programs) aspire to develop students' first language literacy skills and it is therefore primarily these programs that would be expected to succeed in reversing the underachievement of bilingual students.

In this paper I restate what my own empirical research and that of many others is clearly saying and also outline the theoretical principles that permit us to explain these findings and predict the outcomes of various types of programs for bilingual students. Then I attempt to move beyond the divisive discourse of courtroom lawyers to search for areas of agreement in the perspectives and interpretations of both opponents and advocates of bilingual education. I believe that there are many such areas of agreement and focusing on them might provide a starting point for reconstructing a viable research-based approach to reversing a legacy of school failure.

Research Findings on Language Learning and Bilingual Education

The research is unambiguous in relation to three issues: (a) the distinction between conversational and academic skills in a language; (b) the positive effects of bilingualism on children's awareness of language and cognitive functioning; and (c) the close relationship between bilingual students' academic development in their first and second languages (L1 and L2) in situations where students are encouraged to develop both languages. [1]

Conversational and Academic Proficiency
Research studies since the early 1980s have shown that immigrant students can quickly acquire considerable fluency in the target language when they are exposed to it in the environment and at school but despite this rapid growth in conversational fluency, it generally takes a minimum of about five years (and frequently much longer) for them to catch up to native-speakers in academic aspects of the language (Cummins, 1980, 1981b, 1984). [2] During this period, especially for younger students, conversational fluency in the home language tends to erode. This is frequently exacerbated by the temptation for teachers to encourage students to give up their first language and switch to English as their primary language of communication; however, the research evidence suggests that this retards rather than expedites academic progress in English (Cummins, 1991a; Dolson, 1985).

The major implication of these data is that we should be looking for interventions that will sustain bilingual students' long-term academic progress rather than expecting any short-term "quick-fix" solution to students' academic underachievement in English.

The Positive Effects of Additive Bilingualism
There are well over 100 empirical studies carried out during the past 30 or so years that have reported a positive association between additive bilingualism and students' linguistic, cognitive, or academic growth. The term "additive bilingualism" refers to the form of bilingualism that results when students add a second language to their intellectual tool-kit while continuing to develop conceptually and academically in their first language. My own studies of this issue have involved French-English bilinguals, Irish-English bilinguals, and Ukrainian-English bilinguals (Cummins, 1978a, 1978b; Cummins & Gulutsan, 1974; Cummins & Mulcahy, 1978).

The educational implication of these research studies is that the development of literacy in two or more languages entails linguistic and academic benefits for individual students in addition to preparing them for a working environment in both domestic and international contexts that is increasingly characterized by diversity and where knowledge of additional languages represents a significant human resource.

Interdependence of First and Second Languages
The interdependence principle has been stated as follows (Cummins, 1981a):

    To the extent that instruction in Lx is effective in promoting proficiency in Lx, transfer of this proficiency to Ly will occur provided there is adequate exposure to Ly (either in school or environment) and adequate motivation to learn Ly.

The term common underlying proficiency (CUP) has also been used to refer to the cognitive/academic proficiency that underlies academic performance in both languages.

Consider the following research data that support this principle:

  • In virtually every bilingual program that has ever been evaluated, whether intended for linguistic majority or minority students, spending instructional time teaching through the minority language entails no academic costs for students' academic development in the majority language. This is borne out in the review of research carried out by Rossell and Baker (1996) as well as by the 30 chapters describing an extremely large number of bilingual programs in countries around the globe in the volume edited by Cummins and Corson (1998). (See also: Cummins, 1977, 1978c; Cummins & Gulutsan, 1974; Lapkin & Cummins, 1981)
  • Countless research studies have documented a moderately strong correlation between bilingual students' first and second language literacy skills in situations where students have the opportunity to develop literacy in both languages (for a detailed review of these studies see Cummins, 1991b). It is worth noting, as Genesee (1979) points out, that these findings also apply to the relationships among very dissimilar languages in addition to languages that are more closely related, although the strength of relationship is often reduced (e.g. Japanese/English, Chinese/English, Basque/Spanish see Cummins et al., 1984; Cummins et al., 1990; Cummins, 1983; Gabina et al., 1986; Lasagabaster Herrerte, 1997, in press; Sierra & Olaziregi, 1989, 1991).

Fitzgerald's (1995) comprehensive review of U.S. research on cognitive reading processes among ESL learners concluded that this research consistently supported the common underlying proficiency model:

    ...considerable evidence emerged to support the CUP model. United States ESL readers used knowledge of their native language as they read in English. This supports a prominent current view that native-language development can enhance ESL reading. (p. 181)

The research data show clearly that within a bilingual program, instructional time can be focused on developing students' literacy skills in their primary language without adverse effects on the development of their literacy skills in English. Furthermore, the relationship between first and second language literacy skills suggests that effective development of primary language literacy skills can provide a conceptual foundation for long-term growth in English literacy skills.

Misconceptions and Distortions

The research data are very specific in what they are saying: to reiterate, superficial conversational fluency is not a good indicator of long-term academic growth in English. Thus, premature exit from a bilingual program into a typical mainstream program is likely to result in underachievement in both languages. Bilingual students will usually require most of the elementary school years to bridge the gap between themselves and native speakers of English; this is, in part, due to the obvious fact that native speakers are naturally also progressing in their command of academic English year by year. Bilingual students' prospects for long-term academic growth in English will not be reduced in any way as a result of spending part of the instructional day developing academic skills in the primary language. In fact, the research suggests that students may experience some linguistic and cognitive benefits as a result of developing literacy in both languages.

Misconceptions Among Some Bilingual Program Advocates
These psychoeducational data do not show, nor do they claim to show, that all forms of bilingual education are more effective than all forms of all-English instruction. In fact, I have argued for more then 20 years that quick-exit transitional bilingual education is an inferior model based on an inadequate theoretical assumption (what I have termed the linguistic mismatch assumption) (Cummins, 1978, 1979, 1981a). Any adequate bilingual program should strive to develop, to the extent possible, literacy in both languages; transitional bilingual programs, however, almost by definition, aspire to monolingualism rather than bilingualism. Such programs also generally do little to address the causes of bilingual students' underachievement which, as sketched above, are rooted in the subordination of the community in the wider society.

The psychoeducational data also say nothing about the language in which reading instruction should be introduced. A survey I conducted of bilingual programs in Ireland (which catered both to Irish L1 and English L1 students) showed that teachers were equally divided with respect to whether reading should be taught first in L1, L2 or both simultaneously (Cummins, 1978d, 1979) and I would agree that under different circumstances all three of these approaches are probably viable. For Spanish-speaking students, the much greater regularity of phoneme/grapheme correspondence in Spanish in comparison to English might suggest that this is a more logical language in which to introduce reading. Thus, I would expect those who strongly advocate direct instruction in phonics also to support initial reading instruction in the native language for these students. For my part, however, the promotion of literacy in bilingual students' two languages throughout elementary school is far more important than the specific language in which students are introduced to literacy.

A third misconception that may operate in a small number of bilingual programs is the notion that English academic instruction should be delayed for several grades until students' L1 literacy is well-established. This approach can work well for bilingual students, as the data from two-way bilingual immersion programs demonstrate (e.g. Dolson & Lindholm, 1995; Christian et al., 1998; Porter, 1990). However, in these cases, there is a coherent instructional program from kindergarten through grade 6 with L1 literacy instruction continued through elementary school as the proportion of English instruction increases. There is also direct contact with native speakers of English who are in the same classes. What is much less likely to work well is L1-only instruction (with some oral English) until grades 2 or 3 and then dropping students into all-English programs taught by mainstream teachers who may have had minimal professional development in strategies for supporting bilingual students' academic growth. I have argued that a bilingual program should be a genuine bilingual program with coherence across grade levels and a strong English language literacy development syllabus built in to the overall plan (Cummins, 1996). Ideally, teachers would work for two-way transfer across languages to amplify bilingual students' awareness of language (e.g. through drawing attention to cognate connections, student collaborative research projects focused on language, etc. [see Corson, 1998]).

The final misconception that sometimes characterizes the implementation of bilingual programs is the notion that bilingual education is a panacea that by itself will miraculously elevate student achievement levels. I have argued (Cummins, 1986, 1996) that no program will promote bilingual students' academic achievement effectively unless there is a genuine school-wide commitment (a) to promote, to the extent possible, an additive form of bilingualism, (b) to collaborate with culturally diverse parents and communities in order to involve them as partners in their children's education, and (c) to instruct in ways that build on bilingual students' personal and cultural experience (i.e. their cognitive schemata) and that promote critical literacy; such instruction would focus on providing students with opportunities to generate new knowledge, create literature and art, and act on social realities (see Cummins and Sayers, 1995, for a discussion of "transformative" pedagogy).

It is doubtless much easier to promote students' bilingualism, involve parents (who may speak little or no English), and build on students' background experience, in the context of a genuine bilingual program than in a monolingual program. A shared language between teachers, students, and parents clearly facilitates communication. However, I would have no hesitation in choosing a "monolingual" program where the entire school was striving to implement these forms of pedagogy over a so-called "bilingual" program where there was little commitment to these goals.

Distortions by Opponents of Bilingual Programs
A few examples from the Rossell and Baker (1996) paper will serve to illustrate the frequent distortions both of my work and that of others who have carried out research on immersion and bilingual programs.

Rossell and Baker characterize me (and virtually all others who have evaluated bilingual or immersion programs) as a supporter of transitional bilingual education despite the fact that I have argued strongly and consistently for 20 years against transitional bilingual education and its theoretical rationale.

They also attribute to me what they term "the facilitation theory" despite the fact that I have never used this term. As noted above, in attempting to account for the research on the relationship between L1 and L2, I have employed the term interdependence to signify the consistent positive relationship between L1 and L2 academic proficiency and the fact that instruction through a minority language for a considerable period of the day results in no adverse long-term effects on students' academic development in the majority language.

Rossell and Baker do acknowledge that I have advanced a "'developmental interdependence' hypothesis that states that the development of skills in a second language is facilitated by skills already developed in the first language" (p. 27). They go on to state that they are in agreement with this principle: "..even though it is true that it is easier to teach a second language to individuals who are literate in their native tongue, this tells us nothing about how non-literate individuals should be taught, nor the language in which they should be taught" (p. 30) [emphasis added]. As I have outlined above, I fully agree that neither the interdependence principle, nor the research data showing that students taught bilingually suffer no adverse academic consequences in English, demonstrate by themselves that bilingual instruction will lead to better long-term achievement. What the research data and theory do show and what Rossell and Baker apparently agree with is, to quote Rossell's commentary on the Ramirez report, "large deficits in English language instruction over several grades apparently make little or no difference in a student's achievement" (1992, p. 183). Expressed more positively, promoting literacy in students' primary language will provide a foundation for the development of literacy in English such that no deficits in English language development result as a consequence of spending less instructional time through English. [3]

A final, more general, set of distortions in the Baker and Rossell article can be noted. They cite ten research studies which they claim show structured immersion to be superior to transitional bilingual education (TBE). Seven of these studies were studies of French immersion programs in Canada. One (Malherbe, 1946) was an extremely large-scale study of Afrikaans-English bilingual education in South Africa involving 19,000 students. The other two were carried out in the United States (Gersten, 1985; Pena-Hughes & Solis, 1980).

The Pena-Hughes and Solis program (labelled "structured immersion" by Rossell and Baker) involved an hour of Spanish language arts per day and was viewed as a form of bilingual education by the director of the program (Willig, 1981/82). I would see the genuine promotion of L1 literacy in this program as indicating a much more adequate model of bilingual education than the quick-exit transitional bilingual program to which it was being compared. Gersten's study involved an extremely small number of Asian-origin students (12 immersion students in the first cohort and nine bilingual program students, and 16 and seven in the second cohort) and hardly constitutes an adequate sample upon which to base national policy.

Malherbe's study concluded that students instructed bilingually did at least as well in each language as students instructed monolingually despite much less time through each language. Malherbe argues strongly for the benefits of bilingual education and his data are clearly consistent with the interdependence principle.

So we come to the seven Canadian French immersion programs. First, it is important to note that these are all fully bilingual programs, taught by bilingual teachers, with the goal of promoting bilingualism and biliteracy. It seems incongruous that Rossell and Baker use the success of such bilingual programs to argue for monolingual immersion programs taught largely by monolingual teachers with the goal of developing monolingualism.

More bizarre, however, is the fact that their account of the outcomes of these programs is erroneous in the extreme. Consider the following quotation:

Both the middle class and working class English-speaking students who were immersed in French in kindergarten and grade one were almost the equal of native French-speaking students until the curriculum became bilingual in grade two, at which point their French ability declined and continued to decline as English was increased. The 'time-on-task' principle--that is, the notion that the amount of time spent learning a subject is the greatest predictor of achievement in that subject--holds across classes in the Canadian programs. (p. 22)

Rossell and Baker seem oblivious of the fact that the "time-on-task" principle is refuted by every evaluation of French immersion programs (and there are hundreds) by virtue of the fact that there is no relationship between the development of students' English proficiency and the amount of time spent through English in the program. Consistent with the interdependence principle, French immersion students who spend about two-thirds of their instructional time in elementary school through French perform as well in English as students who have had all of their instruction through English.

Rossell and Baker also seem oblivious to the fact that by the end of grade one French immersion students are still at very early stages in their acquisition of French. Despite good progress in learning French (particularly receptive skills) during the initial two years of the program, they are still far from native-like in virtually all aspects of proficiency speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Most grade 1 and 2 French immersion students are still incapable of carrying on even an elementary conversation in French without major errors and insertions of English. [4] To claim that two years of immersion in French in kindergarten and grade 1 results in almost native-like proficiency in French in a context where there is virtually no French exposure in the environment or in school outside the classroom flies in the face of a massive amount of research data.

Similarly, it is ludicrous to claim, as Baker and Rossell do, that the French proficiency of grade 6 immersion students is more poorly developed than that of grade 1 students and to attribute this to the fact that L1 instruction has been incorporated in the program. Significantly, Rossell and Baker cite no specific study to back up these claims. The validity of the claims can be assessed from Swain and Lapkin's (1982) overview of the French immersion research conducted in Ontario:

even by grade 1 or 2, the immersion students were scoring as well as about one-third of native French-speaking students in Montreal, and by grade 6 as well as one-half of the Montreal comparison group. (pp. 41-42)

These data refer to performance on a standardized achievement measure; Swain and Lapkin point out that there are major differences at all grade levels in the productive skills of speaking and writing (see also Swain, 1978).

Lambert & Tucker (1972) similarly report highly significant differences between grade 1 immersion and native French-speaking students on a variety of vocabulary, grammatical and expressive skills in French, despite the fact that no differences were found in some of the sub-skills of reading such as word discrimination. By the end of grade four, however, (after 3 years of English [L1] language arts instruction), the immersion students have caught up with the French controls in vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension, although differences still remain in speaking ability.

In short, the French immersion data are the opposite of what Rossell and Baker claim. There are very significant differences between the immersion students and native French-speaking controls at the end of grade 1 (after two years of monolingual total immersion) but the immersion students catch up in French listening and reading in the later grades of elementary school after the program becomes bilingual (and obviously after they have had several more years of learning French!).

Rossell and Baker's discussion of the French immersion data is presumably meant to imply that two years of "structured immersion" in English should be sufficient for limited English proficient students to come close to grade norms in English. The fact that the one large-scale "methodologically acceptable" study that investigated this issue (Ramirez, 1992) found that early-grade students in "structured immersion" were very far from grade norms in English even after four years of immersion does not seem to disturb them.

The significance of these points is that the empirical basis of Rossell and Baker's entire argument rests, according to their own admission, on the performance in French of English-background students in the first two years of Canadian French immersion programs. Not only are a large majority of the programs they cite as evidence for "structured immersion" Canadian French immersion programs, but Rossell (in response to critiques from Kathy Escamilla and Susan Dicker) suggests that:

In the first two years, the program is one of total immersion, and evaluations conducted at that point are considered to be evaluations of "structured immersion." It is really not important that, in later years, the program becomes bilingual if the evaluation is being conducted while it is still and always has been a structured immersion program. (1996, p. 383)

Rossell and Baker's argument thus rests on their claim that students in monolingual "structured immersion" programs (Canadian French immersion programs in kindergarten and grade 1) come close to grade norms while the program is monolingual in L2 but lose ground in comparison to native speakers when the program becomes bilingual in later grades. As we have seen, the data show exactly the opposite: there are major gaps between immersion students and native French speakers after the initial two years of monolingual L2 instruction but students catch up with native speakers after instruction in their L1 (English) is introduced and the program has become fully bilingual.

Based on their own premises and interpretation of the data, it is clear that Rossell and Baker should be arguing for bilingual instruction rather than against it. [5] [6]

Reconciling Differences: Investing in Quality Education

It seems clear that if only because of the shortage of bilingual teachers, at least 70% of limited English proficient students will continue to be taught in English-only programs. However, for the 30% who might continue to be in some form of bilingual program, the perspectives of those who ostensibly oppose bilingual education are instructive in highlighting directions for implementing quality bilingual programs.

I look briefly at some of the arguments made by four of the most prominent opponents of bilingual education (Keith Baker, Charles Glenn, Rosalie Pedalino Porter, and Christine Rossell) and suggest that both their interpretation of the research data and their stated educational philosophies in relation to bilingual students provide ample overlap with the positions I (and many others) have advocated. With the possible exception of Rossell, all have endorsed high quality "dual immersion" or "two-way bilingual immersion" programs as a highly effective way to promote both bilingualism and English academic achievement among bilingual students. This is exactly the type of optimal program that is implied by the theoretical principles I have outlined earlier.

According to Porter (1990), a two-way or dual immersion program is "particularly appealing because it not only enhances the prestige of the minority language but also offers a rich opportunity for expanding genuine bilingualism to the majority population" (p. 154). Such programs promise "mutual learning, enrichment, and respect" (p. 154) and "are also considered to be the best possible vehicles for integration of language minority students, since these students are grouped with English-speakers for natural and equal exchange of skills" (p. 154). She goes on to argue that two-way programs are "the best opportunity for families that are seriously committed to genuine bilingualism for their children" and these programs "do not cost any more than the average single-language classes to maintain" (p. 156). She points out, however, that probably the maximum proportion of language minority students such programs could serve would be about ten per cent (p. 157). Since only about 30 per cent of limited English proficient students are in any form of bilingual program at this point in time (University of California Minority Research Institute Education Policy Center, 1997), and a large proportion of those are in questionable forms of quick-exit transitional bilingual program, aspiring towards a ten per cent coverage for dual immersion programs would be a worthy goal that obviously Porter and I would strongly agree on. As is evident from the quotations above, Porter does not appear at all concerned that in dual immersion programs, generally between 50% and 90% of instructional time in the early grades is devoted to instruction through the minority language, and language arts instruction in this language is continued throughout schooling, despite the fact that this appears to contradict the "time-on-task" principle that she advocates elsewhere in her book.

Keith Baker (1992) has similarly endorsed dual immersion programs, ironically in an extremely critical review of Porter's book Forked Tongue. He repudiates Porter's interpretation of dual immersion program evaluations in El Paso and San Diego as representing support for English-only immersion:

She summarizes a report from El Paso (1987) as finding that an all-English immersion program was superior to bilingual education programs. The El Paso report has no such finding. What Porter describes as an all-English immersion program in El Paso is, in fact, a Spanish-English dual immersion program. The El Paso study supports the claims of bilingual education advocates that most bilingual education programs do not use enough of the native language. It does not support Porter's claims that they should use less.

Like El Paso, San Diego has an extensive two-language program. Like El Paso, there is evidence that the extensive bilingual education program worked better than the typical bilingual education program. Like El Paso, the results of the San Diego study argue for more bilingual education programs, not fewer as Porter maintains. (p. 6)

It is worth noting that the El Paso (1987, 1992) study is one of those considered methodologically acceptable by Rossell and Baker (1996), so presumably Rossell also would regard dual immersion programs as a promising model to implement. This is particularly so in view of the fact that another "methodologically acceptable" study, Legarretta (1979), also reported that a 50% L1, 50% L2 model resulted in more English language acquisition than models with less L1 instruction. Yet another "methodologically acceptable" study (Pena-Hughes & Solis, 1980) showed that a program with consistent L1 literacy instruction (for 25% of the school day) aimed at promoting students' Spanish literacy worked better than a program that did not aim to promote Spanish literacy.

It seems clear that Rossell and Baker could have constructed a far more convincing case for the efficacy of dual immersion or two-way bilingual immersion than the case they attempt to construct for English-only "structured immersion." Nine of the ten studies they cite as supporting monolingual "structured immersion" are in fact bilingual programs and almost all of these were conducted outside the United States with students very different from those who are currently underachieving in U.S. schools. On the basis of their own review of the literature and Baker's published statements endorsing the El Paso and San Diego models, they would surely have to agree with Porter and me that dual immersion is a model with demonstrated success in promoting bilingual students' academic achievement and that this model should be promoted as vigorously as possible.

Charles Glenn's review of the National Research Council (1997) report on schooling for language-minority children similarly appears highly critical of bilingual education, at least on the surface. Glenn views as "one of the central articles of faith of bilingual education" that children must be taught to read first in the language which they speak at home. As I noted above, I have argued for more than 20 years against this simplistic "linguistic mismatch" assumption underlying early bilingual programs in the United States. I fully agree with Glenn's concluding statement which demonstrates his personal support for bilingual education as a means of developing children's bilingualism:

What cannot be justified, however, is to continue substituting a preoccupation with the language of instruction for the essential concern that instruction be effective. Bilingual education, it has become clear, is not of itself a solution to the under-achievement of any group of poor children. It is time that those of us who support bilingual education in my case, by sending five of my children to an inner-city bilingual school insist upon honesty about its goals and its limits. Bilingual education is a way to teach children to be bilingual, but it possesses no magic answer to the challenge of educating children at risk. Bilingualism is a very good thing indeed, but what language-minority children need most is schools that expect and enable them to succeed through providing a demanding academic program, taught very well and without compromise, schools which respect the ways in which children differ but insist that these differences must not be barriers to equal opportunity. (1997, p. 15)

Glenn concurs with the NRC report's recommendation of three components that should characterize any effective program:

  • Some native-language instruction, especially initially
  • For most students, a relatively early phasing in of English instruction
  • Teachers specially trained in instructing English-language learners

To this list I would add the goal of genuinely promoting literacy in students' L1, where possible and to the extent possible, and continuation of L1 literacy development throughout elementary school. Glenn approvingly cites the common European (and Canadian) practice of providing immigrant students with the opportunity to continue to study the heritage language and culture as an elective, so presumably he would endorse the goal of L1 literacy development for bilingual students in the United States, at least for Spanish-speaking students where numbers and concentration make this goal administratively feasible.

Glenn, however, is clearly concerned that, in his view, many bilingual programs segregate students and retain them too long outside the mainstream, with newcomers "simply dumped into a bilingual class of the appropriate age level" (p. 7). In addition, he suggests that these programs may lack coherent, cognitively challenging opportunities for students to develop higher order English literacy skills.

As noted earlier, these concerns may certainly be justified in the case of a proportion of poorly-implemented bilingual programs; however, concerns about segregation, low teacher expectations, and cognitively undemanding "drill and practice" instruction equally characterize the English-only programs attended by about 70 per cent of limited English proficient students. Segregation in schools is primarily a function of housing and neighborhood ghettoization and will exist regardless of the language of instruction. A major advantage of two-way bilingual programs, as noted above, is that they overcome segregation in a planned program that aims to enrich the learning opportunities of both minority and majority language students. However, even in segregated, low-income, inner city contexts, the findings of Ramirez (1992) and Beykont (1994) show that well-implemented developmental (late-exit) bilingual programs can achieve remarkable success in promoting grade-level academic success for bilingual students.

A final point of agreement in relation to Glenn's analysis is his statement that "the under-achievement of Hispanics in the United States and of Turks and Moroccans in northwestern Europe, I suggested in my recent book, may have less to do with language differences than with their status in the society and how they come to terms with that status" (p. 10). I have elaborated on essentially the same point in many publications (Cummins, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1996) drawing on John Ogbu's (1978) initial distinction between "caste" and "immigrant" minorities and attempting to work out how status and power differentials in the wider society are played out in the interactions between educators and students in school.

The distinction that Glenn draws between "language differences" and "status in society" implies an "either-or" logic that suggests that if underachievement is related to status and power differentials then it has nothing to do with language. Clearly, this is absurd. As Glenn knows better than most, the subordinated status of colonized and stigmatized minority groups in countries around the world has been reinforced in the school by punishing students for speaking their home language and making them feel ashamed of their language, culture and religion. In other words, the interactions that subordinated group students experience in school have reinforced the inferior status that the minority community has experienced in the wider society.

It seems obvious that if one diagnoses that the roots of the problem of minority student underachievement are to be found in the low status of the subordinated group in the wider society (as Glenn appears to do), then surely one would acknowledge that a significant rationale for promoting students' primary language in school through bilingual education is to challenge this subordinated status and the coercive power relations that gave rise to it. The evidence is overwhelming that strong promotion of literacy in the primary language will result in no adverse consequences for literacy in English (provided there is also an equally strong program for literacy promotion in English which any well-implemented bilingual program will have). Promotion of literacy in the L1 for subordinated group students is obviously not by itself a total solution, but it can certainly make an important contribution to academic achievement for many bilingual students.


I have suggested that when the adversarial screen of courtroom discourse is lifted, there is actually much that advocates and opponents of bilingual education can agree on. Opponents consistently acknowledge the value of bilingualism and their endorsement of dual immersion or two-way bilingual programs ranges from implicit in the case of Rossell (through citing considerably more U.S. examples of successful dual immersion programs than successful structured immersion programs) to explicit and enthusiastic in the case of Porter and Baker. Glenn is also clearly a strong advocate of using bilingual education to develop students' bilingualism, although highly critical of the way in which many bilingual education programs in the United States have been implemented (as are virtually all academic advocates of bilingual education see, for example, Krashen, 1996; Wong Fillmore, 1992).

The challenge for opponents and advocates is to create an ideological space to collaborate in planning quality programs for bilingual students in view of the fact that (a) there appears to be consensus on the desirability of promoting students' individual bilingualism (and the linguistic resources of the nation) and (b) as acknowledged by Rossell in her analysis of the Ramirez report, there is clear evidence in virtually all the research data (reviewed by Rossell and Baker and many others) that promotion of bilingual students' primary language, in itself, will not in any way impede the development of English academic proficiency.

Working together to disseminate information on the effectiveness of two-way bilingual immersion programs, as advocated by Porter, would be a good place to start. Another initiative would be to defuse the acrimony regarding the language of instruction issue by acknowledging that the deep structure of interactions between educators and students is a primary determinant of students' academic engagement or withdrawal; these interactions are much more likely to be effective in promoting student engagement when they challenge explicitly the low status that has been assigned to the subordinated group in the wider society (as implied by Glenn's analysis). Instructional models that explicitly challenge what Glenn terms the "demoralized underclass" status of the group are likely to vary with respect to the amount of L1 and L2 instruction depending on the context, parental wishes, and the availability of bilingual teachers; but all will have in common a deep structure that affirms the value of students' cultural and linguistic identity and offers students opportunities to develop powerful intellectual and linguistic tools to act on the social realities that affect their lives.


1. In support of these principles, I will cite primarily my own empirical research studies since the claim has been made by Christine Rossell that I have carried out virtually no research in support of the theoretical principles I have advanced. This claim was made in a presentation at the California State Department of Education, January 13, 1996. Her exact words are as follows:

By the way, I often hear people talk about Jim Cummins' research. Jim Cummins doesn't do research on bilingual education. He has not done a single study of bilingual education. He has done one study of how long it takes kids to learn a second language. That's it. That study can tell you nothing about what language they should be taught in while they're learning the second language. So he doesn't do research.

Nevertheless, he does do theories. And his theory that he came up with to try and reconcile these findings that transitional bilingual education was not superior and often was inferior to doing nothing, not even getting any help at all - his theory was the facilitation theory. He came up with the facilitation theory. It has two parts, the threshold effect and the interdependence of skills.

The threshold effect says I've got it the reason why some of these programs don't have kids who come out with superior achievement is they weren't taught long enough in their native tongue. It must be that you have to be taught for a long time in your native tongue and you have to reach a threshold in that native tongue before you can be transitioned to English. He did no research to support that. I've read all his research so I can say with full confidence there's not an ounce, and anyone who says "Jim Cummins' research" I simply say show it to me.

Rossell here totally misrepresents the "threshold hypothesis" which was advanced to account for apparently contradictory research data concerning the effects of bilingualism (not bilingual education) on cognition. It suggested that the levels of proficiency bilinguals attain in their two languages may act as an intervening variable in mediating the effects of bilingualism on their cognitive functioning. The threshold hypothesis says nothing directly about bilingual education - in fact the term "transitional bilingual education" had scarcely entered the lexicon of public debate when the threshold hypothesis was first advanced (Cummins, 1976). It is worth noting that in addition to my own research which is consistent with the notion of "threshold effects" (Cummins, 1974, 1978a, 1978b, Cummins & Mulcahy, 1978) several more recent studies have also supported the notion (e.g. Lasagabaster Herrarte, 1997, in press; Lee & Schallert, 1997; Mohanty, 1994; Ricciardelli, 1992). Particularly interesting is Beykont's (1994) analysis of Site E grades 3-6 longitudinal data from the Ramirez (1992) study which showed that academic progress in English reading was faster for those students whose initial (grade 3) Spanish reading scores were high and slower for those with low initial Spanish reading scores. Beykont also observed a strong relationship between English and Spanish reading at the grade 3 level, a finding predicted by the interdependence hypothesis.

In order to correct the claim that Jim Cummins "doesn't do research," I have asterisked papers in the bibliography that report original research that I have carried out related to bilingualism, bilingual education, and second language learning.

2. Collier's (1987) research among middle-class immigrant students taught exclusively through English in the Fairfax County district suggested that a period of 5-10 years was required for students to catch up. Recent data from the Santa Ana district in California suggest that even longer periods (average 10 years) are required. The Ramirez Report data illustrate the pattern (Ramirez, 1992): after four years of instruction, grade 3 students in both structured immersion (English-only) and early exit bilingual programs were still far from grade norms in English achievement. Grade 6 students in late-exit programs who had consistently received about 40% of their instruction through their primary language were beginning to approach grade norms (see also Beykont, 1994).

3. Rossell and Baker's use of the term "facilitation hypothesis" to describe my theoretical constructs is just one of many distortions in their paper. It permits them, however, to claim that the results of studies such as the large-scale evaluation of programs for minority francophones in Manitoba conducted by Hébert (1976) are contrary to the "facilitation hypothesis" (pp. 28-29). Hébert's study showed that French L1 students taught primarily through French throughout their schooling were doing just as well in English as similar students taught primarily in English. This study not only refutes Rossell and Baker's "time-on-task" principal (as do all of the other evaluations they cite) but it also provides direct support for the interdependence principle. Rossell and Baker, however, argue that it is inconsistent with the "facilitation hypothesis" because the minority students instructed through the minority language did not do better in English than those with less instruction through English. Thus, in their version of the "facilitation hypothesis" (which they inaccurately attribute to me) minority students taught through their L1 should always perform better in English than students taught exclusively through English regardless of the conditions or sociocultural context. This is a very different prediction than that which derives from the interdependence hypothesis which is that the transfer of conceptual and linguistic knoweldge across languages can compensate for the significantly reduced instructional time through the majority language. Rossell and Baker's version of the "facilitation hypothesis" makes linguistic and instructional factors independent variables, whose effects can be predicted in isolation, rather than intervening variables whose effects will be significantly influenced by sociocultural and sociopolitical conditions. I have consistently argued (e.g., Cummins, 1979) that linguistic factors cannot be considered in isolation from the social context and Rossell and Baker's inability or unwillingness to acknowledge this is extremely surprising. As articulated above, bilingual programs have considerably more potential to reverse historical patterns of underachievement than monolingual English programs, but whether or not any bilingual program will do so depends on the interaction of a variety of linguistic and non-linguistic factors.

4. The same pattern is reported by Christian et al. (1997) for English L1 students in U.S. two-way immersion programs. They report, for example, that in the River Glen program in San Jose, 60% of the English-L1 students were rated as fluent in Spanish by the end of grade 1 (compared to 100% of the Spanish L1 speakers) but students had bridged the gap by fifth grade where 100% of the English-L1 students were rated as fluent. Students had also caught up to grade norms in Spanish reading by this stage.

5. The lack of credibility of the claims in Rossell and Baker's review (e.g. in comparisons of reading performance in TBE versus Structured Immersion, no difference was found in 17% and TBE was worse in 83%) can be gauged from even a superficial examination of the programs that are being compared. They state that they had to "translate" the French immersion programs into United States terminology. This means labelling as "transitional bilingual education" programs for majority English native language speakers that were 100% minority language (French students' L2) in kindergarten, and 50% French, 50% English from grades 1-6. "Structured immersion" programs were those that were 100% French (students' L2) from K-grade 1, with English (L1) being gradually increased to 50% between grades 2 and 6. In other words both programs are fully bilingual and are intended to develop bilingualism. Surely it stretches credibility to label as "transitional bilingual education" a program intended for majority rather than minority language speakers and in which there is no transition from one language to another.

If the foregoing appears confusing, consider the fact that two of the evaluations considered to demonstrate the superiority of monolingual English-only structured immersion programs were actually evaluations of trilingual programs (Hebrew, French, English) which demonstrated clearly that such programs were highly feasible (Genesee & Lambert, 1983; Genesee et al., 1977).

In reporting the superiority of "monolingual" (structured immersion) programs over "bilingual" (TBE) programs by a spread of 83% to 17%, research ethics might have dictated to many scholars that they inform their readers that 90% of these ten studies demonstrate the effectiveness of certain forms of either bilingual or trilingual education. Furthermore, all the authors of these studies are strong advocates of bilingual and trilingual education on the basis of the research they have carried out.

6. It is worth highlighting an additional point in relation to the Rossell and Baker review. In designating evaluations of many examples of apparently successful bilingual education programs as "methodologically unacceptable," Rossell and Baker rejected all studies that did not compare "students in bilingual education to similar students not in bilingual education" (p. 15) (although as noted above, this criterion was not observed in the comparisons between different forms of French immersion programs, all of which are fully bilingual or trilingual). The designation of only one type of research study as relevant to policy totally ignores the role of theory in understanding what works and what doesn't work. Prediction of the outcomes of any particular program is dependent on which theoretical principles have been supported by research and which have been refuted by research. I have suggested in many publications (e.g. Cummins, 1979, 1981a) that the research clearly refutes both the "time-on-task" hypothesis (what I have termed the "maximum exposure" assumption) and the "linguistic mismatch" hypothesis. The former (endorsed by most opponents of bilingual education) argues that the instructional time spent through English (the majority language) will be directly proportional to achievement in that language. As noted above, the research from all of the evaluations of bilingual education (including French immersion programs in Canada) totally refute this hypothesis. The "linguistic mismatch" hypothesis was invoked by some proponents of bilingual education in order to argue that instruction through a second language would invariably result in academic retardation on the grounds that students could not learn effectively through a language they did not understand. This is also clearly refuted by the research (e.g. the French immersion data). The interdependence hypothesis is, by contrast, supported by virtually all the research data from bilingual programs for both minority and majority language students from around the world.

Let us take a hypothetical example to illustrate the role of theory in policy making decisions. Suppose that dual language or two-way bilingual immersion programs (which usually have between 50% and 90% minority language instruction in the early grades) were to show consistently the pattern that most of those that have been evaluated to this date apparently do show: by grade 6 students from majority language backgrounds in these programs develop high levels of biliteracy skills at no cost to their English (L1) academic development; students from minority language backgrounds by grade 6 show above average Spanish (L1) literacy development and attain or come close to grade norms in English (L2) academic skills. Let us suppose, hypothetically, that we have 100 such programs demonstrating this pattern from around the United States and the few programs that do not demonstrate this pattern can be shown to have been poorly implemented or not to have followed the prescribed model in some important respects. However, none of these programs have acceptable control groups for comparison purposes, if only because they were freely chosen by parents (as is the case for all French immersion programs) whereas students in comparison programs just enrolled in their neighborhood school.

Do these 100 programs demonstrating a consistent pattern of achievement in relation to grade norms tell us anything that is policy relevant? Rossell and Baker say no - this pattern is totally irrelevant to policy decisions regarding the efficacy of any form of bilingual education because no control group is present.

I have argued, by contrast, that such a pattern would be directly relevant to policy because it permits us to test certain theoretical predictions against the research data. The fact that the research data may be from case studies and report students' achievement levels in relation to standard scores is not an impediment to examining the consistency of the data with theoretical predictions. Thus, the hypothetical pattern described for both minority and majority students would clearly refute the "time-on-task" hypothesis because students instructed through the minority language for significant parts of the school day (or as Rossell [1992] has expressed it, experiencing "large deficits" in amount of English language instruction) suffered no adverse effects in English language academic development. These data would also refute the linguistic mismatch hypothesis since majority language students instructed through Spanish experienced no long-term difficulty learning to read through their second language. The data, however, would be consistent with the interdependence hypothesis since transfer of conceptual and linguistic knowledge across languages is clearly implied by the fact that less instructional time through English (for both groups) resulted in no academic deficits in English academic development.

In short, Rossell and Baker's review of research on bilingual education is highly misleading. Not only are 90% of the studies they claim demonstrate the superiority of monolingual English education over bilingual education in fact fully bilingual or trilingual programs, but the premises underlying the review totally obscure the role of theory in policy-making.


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COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Reprinted by permission of Jim Cummins. This article will appear as a chapter in Carlos Ovando and Peter McLaren, eds., The Politics of Multiculturalism: Students and Teachers in the Crossfire (McGraw-Hill, forthcoming). Copyright © 1998 by Jim Cummins. All rights reserved.