Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



In November 2002, the voters of Massachusetts approved Referendum Question 2. This referendum spelled an end to Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) as the primary program available for children requiring language support in Massachusetts. In its place came a radically different policy called Sheltered English Immersion (SEI). Unlike TBE, which relies on the English learners’ own language to facilitate the learning of academic subjects as they master English, SEI programs rely on the use of simple English in the classroom to impart academic content; teachers use students’ native language only to assist them in completing tasks or to answer a question. This change represented a dramatic shift in the philosophy and practice of teaching English to populations of English Learners.

This particular report focuses on English Learners whose native language is Spanish. In AY2003, the year of the passage of Question 2, native Spanish speakers in the Boston Public Schools were a majority, both of students with limited English proficiency (56.7%) and students in programs for English Learners (60.8%). The impact of the changes imposed by Question 2 on this language group was profound. Because native Spanish speakers made up 20.3% of all students in BPS, the changes in this group also affected the overall outcomes for the district during this period.

In this report we highlight the identification of limited English proficiency among native speakers of Spanish and their enrollment in programs for English Learners (ELs) and find that both suffered substantial declines.Throughout the report, we compare native Spanish speakers in EL and general education programs. We analyze the changes in key engagement and outcome variables, including attendance, suspensions, and drop-out rates, and we find that native Spanish speakers, particularly those in programs for ELs, experienced a very significant increase in their drop-out rate. In examining MCAS results in the 4th, 8th, and 10th grades, we find some improvements in outcomes; but when we compare native Spanish speakers in programs for ELs with their counterparts in the general education program and with English speakers in general programs, we find a widening gap.


This Report is part of English Learners in Boston Public Schools in the Aftermath of Policy Change: Enrollment and Educational Outcomes, AY2003-AY2006, a project of the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy in collaboration with the Center for Collaborative Education, Boston.



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