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As a strong form of bilingual education, developmental (late-exit) bilingual education enables language minority students to continue developing their home languages while learning a second language and academic content (Lindholm-Leary & Genesee, 2010). All students in developmental bilingual programs are mother tongue speakers of one language (e.g., Spanish) being schooled in a majority language (e.g., English) environment. However, students often enter these programs with varying proficiencies in Spanish and English—some students may have recently arrived as immigrants and therefore speak no English while others were born in the U.S. and are already bilingual. Typically, about 90% of the instruction in kindergarten and first grade is provided in the home language while 10% is given in English. The English portion of the instruction gradually increases through the grades to about 50% by the late elementary years.

Research shows that sustained use of the home language in instruction has academic benefits for language minority students. In their synthesis of the research on ELs, Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian (2006) state that students in late-exit bilingual education programs outperform students in early-exit programs and that bilingual proficiency is positively related to academic achievement in both languages. A large-scale study by Ramirez et al. (1991) compared the academic performances of 2,352 Latino elementary schoolchildren in three types of classrooms: (1) English-only, (2) transitional (early-exit) bilingual, and (3) developmental (late-exit) bilingual. Although there were no differences among the program types in student achievement in third grade, students in late-exit programs were doing better in math, English language arts, and English reading than students in the other programs by sixth grade.

In another study involving 42,000 bilingual students in five school districts in various regions of the U.S, Thomas & Collier (2002) compared the achievement on standardized tests of English learners enrolled in different kinds of programs. They found that programs that used students’ home languages in bilingual education produced better results in English reading than programs that used English only. They also found that developmental and two-way bilingual education programs produced better results in English reading than transitional (early-exit) bilingual education programs. Other evaluations of bilingual education programs have consistently favored models that allow children to develop their native language to high levels of proficiency while learning English (Snow, 1990). A review of studies by Francis, Lesaux, & August (2006) revealed that language minority students receiving instruction in both their native language and English did better on English reading assessments than language minority students instructed only in English at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Despite their documented effectiveness, developmental bilingual education programs are rare in American public schools today as bilingual education has come under attack in several states with large numbers of immigrant students (see also Chapter 7). Since the passage of anti-bilingual education legislation, Proposition 227 in California and Proposition 203 in Arizona, only around 8% of ELs in California and 5% of ELs in Arizona are receiving any type of bilingual education (Gandara & Hopkins, 2010a). Interestingly enough, even as the number of developmental bilingual education programs has been decreasing, two-way immersion has been growing in popularity. Next I discuss why that is the case.

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