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The Baker and de Kanter study itself, however, was widely criticized for being biased in the studies selected and methodologically weak in its simple "up or down vote" methods.
Smaller studies, however, suggest that this is the most effective strategy for educating both groups of students to become competent bilinguals without sacrificing English development.
Evaluations conducted in the early years of a program (Grades K-3) typically reveal that students in bilingual education scored below grade level (and sometimes very low) and performed either lower than or equivalent to their comparison group peers (i.e., ELL [English-language learner] students in mainstream English, SEI [structured English immersion]/ESL [English as a second language], or EO [English-only] students in mainstream classrooms).
Two expensive, multiyear studies were commissioned by the federal government to answer the perennial (and ultimately unanswerable) question: Which is more effective, bilingual education or English immersion?
(One reason this question is so difficult to answer is because there is great confusion about the goals of these programs — for example, should the goal be rapid transition to English? In addition, the nature of the instruction is seldom carefully specified — it is often unclear whether it should entail, for instance, fully qualified bilingual teachers providing rigorous curriculum in two languages, bilingual aides helping to translate some portions of an English curriculum, or sink-or-swim immersion into English.) The first major study, released in 1978, found that "there had been no consistent significant impact" of Title VII bilingual education on English learners.
Teaching children in two languages so that they can be competent learners and successfully acquire English has become over time such a hot-button issue that many people are reluctant to use the term "bilingual education" for fear of inciting scorn or stopping a conversation cold.