Bilingual education programs have a very positive effect on the native English speakers attending schools with such programs even though they do not take part in them, according to a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Public Economics.
Texas elementary students who speak English as their home language and were enrolled in schools with bilingual education programs performed much better on state math and reading tests than native English-speaking students at schools without bilingual education programs.
The study did not explore the reasons why, but it could be because the English-speaking students received more direct instruction while the Spanish-speaking students were receiving bilingual education in a separate setting.
While much research has examined the effects of bilingual education on Spanish-speaking students, this study is one of the first to investigate the spillover effects. “What this says is that simply focusing on how these programs affect the students who use them is missing a large part of the picture,” said Scott Imberman, study co-author and Michigan State University associate professor of economics and education. “Whenever you create education programs you have to think beyond the people they’re targeted to, and think about the other students as well.”
In Texas, districts with 20 or more students in the same grade who have the same native language are required to offer those students bilingual education. The researchers compared Texas elementary schools just below and just above the 20-student cutoff. They found that scores on standardized math and reading tests for native English speakers were significantly higher at schools with the bilingual education programs.
English learner students in schools with the bilingual education programs also scored higher on the tests, although there weren’t enough students in the sample for the finding to be conclusive.
Overall, Imberman said, the findings bode well for proponents of bilingual education, “As far as the question of whether bilingual education or ESL is better, this study provides some evidence suggesting that bilingual education is more helpful than ESL.”
Imberman’s fellow researchers were Aimee Chin of the University of Houston and N. Meltem Daysal of the University of Southern Denmark.