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$6.7 Million Study Will 'Immerse' Non-English Speakers

Sam Houston State University is one of several universities from throughout the United States that will be trying to determine in the next five years if there is a better way to teach English to beginning non-English-speaking students.

A collaborative group that includes Sam Houston State, Texas A&M, Southern Methodist University and the Aldine school district just north of Houston has been awarded a $6.7 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education to conduct the research.

The majority of the funding will be used to create enhanced English immersion and enhanced transitional bilingual education programs in the Aldine district in kindergarten to third grade classrooms.

Project ELLA (English Language and Literacy Acquisition) will provide classroom curriculum, professional development for teachers of bilingual/English as a Second Language and mainstream teachers and paraprofessionals, technology applications, parental involvement programs and testing.

Project ELLA is one of three national studies being sponsored by the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences that will be conducted during the same time frame.

Beverly J. Irby
Beverly J. Irby

Beverly J. Irby, professor and chair, Educational Leadership and Counseling, and Ted Creighton, professor and director of the Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership, are the two principal investigators from Sam Houston State.

Rafael Lara-Alecio, professor and director of bilingual education in the educational psychology department at Texas A&M and Patricia Mathes, who holds the Endowed Chair of Reading and Literacy at Southern Methodist, are the other two principal investigators for the grant.

Martha Galloway, clinical professor of bilingual education at A&M, will assist with the research. Aldine school district research representatives are Nadine Kujawa, superintendent; Gloria Cavazos, area superintendent, and Linda Rodriguez, principal.

Irby said that the study comes at a critical time, as debate has escalated on bilingual education methods and the effectiveness of education methods for immigrants and English language learners.

"The Unz initiative that swept California and Arizona to disband bilingual education is based on perceptions and misconceptions rather than the scientifically-based research that the federal government now has required and funded under the No Child Left Behind Legislation," said Irby.

"It would behoove legislators, local district policy makers, and the general public to make any further decisions on bilingual education based on scientific facts rather than on unscientific opinion and perception or on unscientific studies," said Irby. "We would encourage these policymakers and the public to wait on these three national studies prior to changing policies or creating legislation."

The new enhanced English immersion studies could very well impact current bilingual programs in that they will provide additional tutorials in English, more books in English, and additional computer resources in classrooms. Approximately 60 percent of the SHSU group's funding will go directly into Aldine schools to impact instruction.

The study will be non-intrusive, Creighton said, and will seek to improve methods now employed to teach an estimated 4.5 million children that come into U. S. schools each year from families in which the home language is other than English.

Ted Creighton
Ted Creighton

"This research does not run contra to bilingual education and pro for all-English classrooms," said Creighton. “Actually, the scientific facts on how to best serve this population and make them a productive part of our society are not yet available. The jury is still out on how we can better impact and improve the education of these children in our public schools."

The $6.7 million grant is the largest such grant ever in the university's College of Education and Applied Science, as a sole recipient or participant.

The Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling at Sam Houston State is home to many of the university’s contributions to the State's Closing the Gaps initiative.

These include the Bilingual Counseling Training Grant Program (Rick Bruhn and Irby, co-principal investigators); the Bilingual Principal Training Grant (Irby and Dean Genevieve Brown, co-principal investigators); and Project TRIAD, a training grant to assist teachers in learning more about leading efforts in literacy instruction for second language learners (Irby and Brown, co-principal investigators, Linda Creighton, director).

Also, Project PULSE, a leadership training grant with a special education leadership emphasis (Stacey Edmonson and Irby, co-principal investigators); Project CONNECT, a minority and first generation college student recruitment and retention grant (Irby and Alice Fisher, co-principal investigators, Judy Christensen, director); and the Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Child Lures Prevention Grant with the McKay Everett Foundation (Rebecca Robles-Piña, Principal Investigator).

Announced within the past week was the McNair Scholars program (Kandi Tayebi, English department, Fisher and Irby, Educational Leadership, and Bernice Strauss, Psychology department, co-principal investigators, Judy Christensen, director).

All grants and contracts support the mission of teaching, research and scholarship, and service, said Irby. Including Project ELLA, the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling has been involved in securing over $12 million within the past five years to improve the education of the children, youth, and college-age students in Texas.

The Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling offers doctoral and masters programs in Educational Leadership and Counseling.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Nov. 26, 2003
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