Task is not to return to bilingual education, but to improve immersion

The May 21 op-ed“Sinking inan English-only classroom criticizes the lack of special help for non-English-speaking students, but the remedy of returning to bilingual education is extremely unwise. English language learners may not be getting the language teaching required by state law.

As co-chairs of the 2002 English for the Children campaign, we are committed to the success of ELLs, and have decades of experience in this field. A “sink or swim” approach is gross neglect of English learners, and is illegal under state and federal laws.

New regulations since 2003 require hours of special language teaching from the first day of school. When California and Arizona passed English for the Children, they increased funding for teacher training, curriculum development, and accountability for student progress. At a 2010 US Civil Rights Commission hearing, UMass Boston professor Miren Uriarte asserted that Massachusetts has done little in these areas.


Because the state reports so little, we cannot say that English learners are doing better or worse since the law changed. However, research we’ve done in Texas, California, and Arizona shows English learners making greater progress with English immersion teaching.

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The Globe reported in 2012 that 17 of 39 valedictorians in Boston high schools came from other countries, some arriving at high school age without English. Given a strong English language program, Massachusetts ELLs are capable of achieving academic success and opportunities in mainstream society. More documented evidence will display that success, as it has in other states.

Rosalie Porter


Christine Rossell


Porter is an education specialist. Rossell is a professor at Boston University.