Stanford University
School of Education


TO: All interested parties
FROM: Kenji Hakuta, Professor of Education*
Date: June 10, 1997
Re: READ Institute press release on NRC report

I am writing in an individual capacity in response to the press release from READ (Research on English Acquisition and Development, Inc.) on the report, Improving Schooling for Language- Minority Children: A Research Agenda, which was issued from the National Research Committee through a committee that I chaired.

Although the Committee has yet to determine whether to issue a formal response to READ regarding the accuracy and character of its representation of the report, I would like to warn that the READ analysis should by no means be accepted uncritically. Two related reasons underlie my strong concern: (1) the READ analysis has not been subjected to the commonly accepted scientific standard of independent peer review, and (2) READ, the organization issuing the report, has a history of bias in reporting research that supports its own advocacy positions.

On the latter point, I note that the National Research Council report makes particular mention of a salient abuse of research findings, a New York City evaluation of bilingual education that was sufficiently flawed such that its shortcomings were noted even by its own authors. Uncritical acceptance of the findings would lead to the conclusion that bilingual education was ineffective. The NRC report notes that in spite of these clear flaws:

"advocates and the media accepted the conclusions of the report. The New York City evaluation has been heralded by advocates as providing ‘hard evidence' (Mujica, 1995) because it makes bilingual education look ineffective. Again study quality is ignored if the results support the advocate's position" (p. 149).

The citation to Mujica (1995) is very important in the present context: the study was published as the lead article in the fall 1995 issue of READ Perspectives, a publication of the READ Institute. Mujica, it should furthermore be noted, is on the Editorial Board of READ Perspectives, invalidating any claims as to the objectivity of the review of the publication. As an advocacy organization in a free society, READ is entitled to its point of view. Nevertheless, its characterization of the National Research Council report – a report that has been subjected to rigorous and multiple levels of peer review – should not be mistaken for the report itself. READ, in the same way that it smoothly ignores its own role in the misrepresentation of research as depicted in the NRC report, misuses the NRC report to advance its own advocacy causes.

It is unfortunate that the fate of language minority students hinges to such a large extent on political arguments rather than educational evidence. The hope of the NRC report has been to elevate the level of public discussion to dispassionately consider the evidence and to construct programs and their evaluation on the basis of educational concerns. That may still happen in the long run (indeed, at least two organizations – the American Educational Research Association and the Linguistic Minority Research Institute of the University of California – are preparing independent analyses of the NRC report) but the far from impartial attempt by READ to place its own political spin on this matter is hardly a helpful step in the right direction.

*Thanks to Kenji Hakuta for permission to reprint this memorandum.