A Once A Day Bitter Pill

In 1973, San Francisco families filed a formal complaint that became Lau. v. Nichols, the Supreme Court Case mandating support for English Language Learners.  Families complained that only 38% of language learners got immersion support, while the rest suffered through total submersion (Spring).  Of those few receiving ESL immersion services, children were all pulled in one classroom with no ability-appropriate grouping for no more than an hour a day.  Families called it “the once a day bitter pill” (Spring 125).

U.S. immersion ESL programs remain a bitter pill for children who sink more often than swim.  In content-area classes, beginning ELLs are submersed in incomprehensible input.  English language support is offered for a fraction of the day as no more than “a little tutoring on the side” (Crawford 26).

Once-a-day immersion ESL services continue to provide inadequate programming.  Early language learners (Newcomers) are often allowed seated next to very advanced learners with undifferentiated curriculum. Newcomers are given busy work or simply ignored.

The overwhelming research supporting a gradual release into the mainstream in bilingual education is also ignored (Krashen 1999). According to Crawford and Krashen, opposition to bilingual education has increased in recent decades (13).  Hornberger also expresses concern that “the current period of English-only and anti-immigrant sentiment…(intensified) around the turn of the millennium” (8).  A great deal of work must be done to promote bilingual education and end sink-or-swim, once-a-day submersion.



Crawford, J. & Krashen, S. (2007). English Learners in American Classrooms: 101 Questions, 101 Answers.  New York: Scholastic.

Hornberger, N. (2005, Spring). Nichols to NCLB: Local and Global Perspectives on U.S. Language Education Policy. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL), 20(2), 1-17.

Krashen, S. D. (1999). Condemned without a trial: Bogus arguments against bilingual education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Spring, J. H. (2007). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Sugarman, S. D. & Widess, E. (1974).  Equal Protection for Non-English-Speaking School Children: Lau v. Nichols.  California Law Review 62(1), 157-182. Retrieved from: http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/californialawreview/vol62/iss1/3


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Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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