Jumping to ill-conceived Conclusions from Educational Research

Flores, Fix, & Batalova (2012) conducted compelling research on English Language Learner (ELL) programs and students with limited English proficiency for the Migration Policy Institute.  Through rigorous research they concluded that “quick exiters” among ELL programs-meaning those students who exited ELL programs in 3 or fewer years appeared to fare better in meeting basic reading and math proficiency than students who stayed in ELL programs for 5 or more years.
Use this as an example of how educators and education policy folks might jump to ill-conceived conclusions from a quick read of the research.  If you try this, see what they say.  Here are some startling reactions I heard from a few colleagues from citing this one small excerpt from the research during my recent travels:
1.  From someone in Massachusetts I heard:  Decrease ELL services to 3 or fewer years for all limited English proficiency kids.
2.  From a retired state level educator in Florida I heard:  Cut funding for ELL services after 3 years to force school districts and schools to play to the research.
3.  And worst of all in South Carolina I heard:  “Those kids who could not exit from ELL services in 3 years were probably special ed anyway.”
Scary isn’t it?
Continuing with this one example to highlight the perils of erroneously applying good research, there is little in this study that speaks to other variables such as quality of the ELL programs being offered, quality of the whole-school strategies being employed in the target schools (e.g. as reading and writing across the curriculum).  These were not the intent of the study in the first place.  From using this study as a basis for reading other related research, we know that there is string defense in students not lingering in ELL programs and to immerse students in English as much and as often as possible.  The best defense is associated with giving kids the most robust and personalized ELL services in the first place (during the first 2 or 3 years).
As a strong proponent of everything we do being steeped in research-driven decisions, I believe we must mind our Ps and Qs and coach others to do the same when applying ANY research to practice and policy.  Applying research in reckless fashion is as bad as applying no research to the work we do.

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