Dr. James Cummins, Ontario Institute for Studies on Education

Dr. Michael Genzuk, University of Southern California

Reprinted from the California Association for Bilingual Education Newsletter, Vol. 13, No. 5, March/April, 1991.

(Available as a PDF document: Cummins & Genzuk Report)

On February 11, 1991, the U.S. Department of Education released the findings of an eight-year study designed to provide definitive answers to one of the most volatile questions in American Education: What types of programs work best in helping Hispanic students succeed in school? The issue has revolved around the effectiveness of bilingual education which involves using the child's primary language in addition to English as a language of instruction.

The Ramirez report (so called after its principal investigator, J. David Ramirez) speaks directly to these issues. The study compared the academic progress of Hispanic elementary school children in three program types:

One of the three late-exit programs in the study was an exception to this pattern in that students were abruptly transitioned into primarily English instruction in grade 2 and English was used almost exclusively in grades five and six. In other words, this "late-exit" program was similar in its implementation to early-exit.

Students were followed to the point where they were mainstreamed into the regular program; in the case of the early-exit and immersion students this was grade 3 while late-exit students were followed to the end of grade 6. It was possible to directly compare the progress of children in the English immersion and early-exit bilingual programs but only indirect comparisons were possible between these programs and the late-exit program because these latter programs were offered in different districts and schools from the former.

Among the findings of the study are the following:

The report concludes that "students who were provided with a substantial and consistent primary language development program learned mathematics, English language, and English reading skills as fast or faster than the norming population used in this study. As their growth in these academic skills is atypical of disadvantaged youth, it provides support for the efficacy of primary language development in facilitating the acquisition of English language skills."

In summary, although the Ramirez report may not have provided definitive answers to all the questions concerning the education of Hispanic children, it has achieved at least two important outcomes: first, it has demonstrated that sustained promotion of children's primary language can be an effective route both to academic excellence and literacy in two languages; second, it has unequivocably refuted the notion that intensive exposure to English is the best way of teaching language minority children.

(Also available as a PDF document: Cummins & Genzuk Report)