Bilingual Education Essay

Bilingual education programs have been implemented for decades. Non-Englishspeaking students in bilingual education programs, however, have shown noacademic or social improvement compared to similar students in English-onlyschools. The disadvantages of bilingual education programs outnumber theadvantages. In addition, recent statistics suggest the need for reconstructionof the present bilingual education programs. Schools began teaching academics inlanguages other than English as early as the 1700s, but not until the1960s did society recognize the hundreds of thousands of non-English speakingstudents struggling in the current system. Before that time, immigrants wereenrolled in non-English schools. The fight for a bilingual education programstarted during the Civil Rights Movement. Immigrants, especially Latin andMexican Americans, observed the progress that African Americans were making anddecided to fight for “equal education.” More than 50 percent of Spanishspeaking students were dropping out of school each year. The schools found adefinite need for intervention. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed theBilingual Education Act which provided federal assistance to school districts todevelop bilingual education programs. Bilingual education programs were designedto teach non-English speaking students in their native language. Theoretically,with this kind of instruction, students test scores and college admittancewould increase and lead to brighter career paths for students not proficient inEnglish. Federal law was expanded in 1974 when the Equal Education OpportunityAct was signed in order to strengthen the rights of non-English speakingstudents. This act ruled that public schools must provide programs for studentswho speak little or no English. Rosalie Porter, author of “The Case AgainstBilingual Education,” additionally points out that this was the first timethat the Federal Government “dictated” how non-English speaking studentsshould be educated (28). With such government support, bilingual educationlooked like a program that would be the solution for the education ofnon-English speaking students. Erie 2 The bilingual education program has anoble purpose and worthwhile objectives. The purpose of the bilingual educationprogram is to teach non-English speaking students in their native language,therefore improving their academic achievement and giving them more educationalopportunities. Noted writer Brian Taylor author of “English for theChildren,” points out the many objectives of the bilingual education program:the first objective is to teach students basic academic subjects in their nativelanguage therefore increasing their academic progress. The program was alsodesigned to teach the students both reading and writing skills in their nativelanguage and eventually to immerse them into classes taught in English. Studentsin bilingual education programs learn English from the time they enter school.

All their academic classes, however, are taught in their native language. Afterthree years of English instruction, students are put into English-only classes.

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The purpose of these objectives is to preserve the students culture at school(Taylor). As reported from “Education Week on the Web,” bilingual educationprograms are based on a maintenance program which preserves the studentsnative language skills while teaching English as a second language (“BilingualEducation”). This program would make it easier for the student to learnEnglish without risking success in academic classes. Bilingual educationprograms sound beneficial; however, after implementation for over 30 years, theresults seen from bilingual education are not as positive as one would expect.

Bilingual education programs have not lived up to expectations. Bilingualeducation programs are costing the United States billions of dollars. Statisticsshow that students in these programs are not showing academic improvement. Theprograms rely too much on native languages which leads to further segregation.

Students in California have suffered the most from bilingual education programs.

More than 25 percent (1.4 million) of the students in California public schoolsare not proficient in English, and only five percent are gaining proficiencyeach year. Many students leave school with limited spoken English and almost noability to read and write in English (Taylor). In some cases, Californiastudents in bilingual education programs have taken more than eight years tocomplete, rather than the expected three years. Each year, only six Erie 3percent of Californian children in bilingual education classes are adequatelyprepared to move into English classes. Unfortunately, drop-out rates are alsoincreasing. Seventeen percent of Hispanics in bilingual classes drop outcompared to the ten percent in English instruction classes. Latinos in bilingualeducation programs have statistics similar to those of students in English-onlyschools (Taylor). Bilingual education programs are not solving the problem theywere intended to solve. National test scores have shown that bilingual educationstudents are improving at the same rate as students taught only in English.

Gregory Rodreguez reports on the study done by Mark Lopez from the University ofMaryland and Marie Mora from New Mexico State University which reveals theeffect bilingual education has on the earnings of Latinos. First and secondgeneration Latinos who were enrolled in bilingual education classes earnedsignificantly less than similar peers who received “monolingual Englishinstruction” (17). Bilingual education programs are not improving thefinancial success of non-English proficient students. If the results are nobetter than these statistics show, what is the purpose of keeping theseprograms? Furthermore, the cost of bilingual education programs is outrageous.

In 1968, the first year that bilingual education programs were executed, thecost was 7.5 million dollars. Since then, the United States has spent more than400 million dollars each year on bilingual education programs. States also needadditional funding to hire and train paraprofessionals, and some programs evenpay college tuition for paraprofessionals so that they may qualify as teachers(Porter 30). Betsy Streisand, author of “Is It Hasta la Vista for BilingualEducation?” reports that bilingual education teachers receive an extra 5,000dollars annually for teaching. In the future funding could include more than20,000 teachers. State and Federal governments have spent hundreds of millionsof dollars of public money over 30 years implementing bilingual educationprograms, and the programs have not shown to work successfully (Streisand).

Another problem of teaching students in their native language is that thisapproach keeps the students from progressing in English and keeps them toodependent on their native language. Erie 4 Bilingual education programs havebeen so focused on keeping the students native language and culture alivethat students are refraining from using English. In bilingual educationprograms, students speak their native language both at school and at home. Sincethey have no immediate use for English, the students speak primarily in theirnative language. Students refraining from using English, possibly explains thereason for the low success rate for students in bilingual education programs.

The programs need to be reconstructed so that the students spend more timespeaking and hearing English. Reconstruction may lead to a more successfulprogram. Another problem with these programs is that it tends to lead tosegregation. The idea behind bilingual education has grown outside of itsoriginal mission of teaching English and has lead to further segregation ofnon-English speaking students (Porter 31). In bilingual education programs,students only converse with other students in their native language. Even whenenrolled in English taught classes, the students of bilingual education programstend to remain segregated from the rest of the student body because they weresecluded for so long in their previous bilingual education classes. In a diversesociety such as the United States, segregation only leads to conflict. When KirkDouglas, author of “Bilingual Education,” describes the United States as a”country of immigrants,” he illustrates how the United States influx ofcultures has made us stronger as a nation. He maintains that if bilingualeducation inhibits the coherence of our society it should not still beimplemented (37). The United States is a melting pot of different cultures. Whenstudents are educated in their native language and learn to rely only on it,then they do not blend with the rest of society. Robert King, author of”Should English be the Law?” states that “language is tearing apartcountries around the world” (57). The United States should not become anothervictim. Speaking English is a necessary skill needed to succeed in the UnitedStates. The United States job is to educate all people and teach all peopleEnglish. Bilingual education programs may inhibit the reality of this goal. Incontrast, Richard Rothstein, author of “Bilingual Education: TheControversy,” argues that ” teaching in ones native language reinforces onesself-worth” (672). Erie 5 Statistics, however, show that “self-esteem is nothigher among limited English students who are taught in their nativelanguage.” In addition, statistics prove that stress is not higher forstudents introduced to English from the first day of school (Porter 32). Evenparents of non-English speaking students recognize that bilingual educationprograms are not working. Latin and Mexican Americans were the ones who soughtequal education opportunity in the first place, and they are the ones who areleast satisfied with the present system. The Latino opposition tonative-language teaching is now more apparent than ever (Porter 31). Immigrantswitness the importance of the English language, and they want to see theirchildren learn it as soon as possible. They are seeing no improvement in theirchildrens English from the current bilingual education programs and are indesperate need of a program that will successfully teach their children English(Streisand). Surveys have been taken for the past ten years concerning thecurrent bilingual education programs. A recent survey of 600 Latino parents,taken by the National Center of Equal Opportunity, showed that the majoritythought learning English was more important than learning to read and write inSpanish. The survey also showed that parents favored learning English overlearning other academic subjects. In 1988, a survey was taken by the EducationalTesting Service who questioned over 2900 Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and AsianAmericans about bilingual education. The results showed that the majority feltit was the familys duty to teach children their native language, not theschools. Parents of non-English speaking children want their children to succeedacademically, and know that learning the English language is the first steptoward that goal. Bilingual education programs were designed to help thesestudents but unfortunately the programs are only creating further hostility andfrustration for these students who desperate to learn English (Porter 31).

Parents of students enrolled in bilingual education programs have done manythings to try to end bilingual education. In 1997, parents of children enrolledin the bilingual education programs at the 9th street Elementary school in LosAngeles, California, kept their children out of Erie 6 school until the schoolboard agreed to remove them from bilingual education programs. The protestlasted two weeks (Streisand). Parents have also taken legal measures. A law suitwas filed in September of 1995 when 150 parents from Brooklyn Public schoolswere angered that their children remained segregated in bilingual educationprograms for three to six years despite the State Education Law that states thatstudents be immersed in English classes after three years. Even after more thanthree years of instruction, students were still not receiving adequate Englishinstruction (Porter 31). If bilingual education programs were formed to helpnon-English speaking students, then why are they are the ones most against theprograms? Evidently, bilingual education programs are failing and that they needto be reformed. California has taken the initiative. On June 2, 1998, Californiapassed Ron Unzs Proposition 227, “English for the Children.” TheProposition requires non-English speaking students to be enrolled in classes inwhich nearly all the instruction is in English. Ben Wildavsky, author of “Puta Stop to Bilingual Education–Now!” reports that although some schooldistricts have not been following the Proposition. However, Ron Unz points outthat “the bulk of the school districts around the state seem to be moving inthe direction of the initiative” (Wildavsky). Even other states are beginningto take the initiative. The prediction is that a similar initiative will occuron the 2000 ballot in Arizona. Another advantage of Proposition 227 is that itgives the families the right to decide for their children. The Propositionstates that with the parents request, students can be put back into bilingualeducation programs. This amendment has been very positive in California. It hasgiven the supporters of bilingual education an alternative to Proposition 227.

Proposition 227 consists of “immersion” programs. Immersion programs involvestudents learning lessons in simple language and slowly immersing themselves inthe English language. The immersion technique requires non-English speakingstudents to be in classes where nearly all instruction is done in English, butat a slower pace. With this technique, most students become fluent in Englishafter just a year before being switched into all English classes. Initiallyopposed to the three year program introduced by bilingual education, teachersErie 7 have already reported that the students in immersion classes are pickingup spoken English rapidly. They are learning far more English than in the past.

With the implementation of Proposition 227, impressive results have alreadyoccurred. Limited English students in California who transferred into immersionclasses under Proposition 227 scored 20, 50 or even 100 percent better on statewide tests compared to their peers who remained in bilingual education classes.

Other states have also witnessed these results and are beginning to form similarinitiatives (Wildavsky). Entrepreneur Guy W. Glodis is working on a reform inMassachusetts which revolves around the idea of immersion classes. Glodis isaware that the current “bilingual education programs are not meeting the needsof the students” (n. pag.). With more than an 84 percent support rate from theLatino culture, Proposition 227 appears to be the solution for the future ofeducation for limited English speaking youth. Implemented in 1968, bilingualeducation had the best humanitarian intentions but turned out “terriblywrongheaded.” Obviously a definite need for reform exists. From the results inCalifornia, immersion programs seem to be in the best interest for non-Englishproficient children. English is “the crucial skill that leads to equalopportunity in school, jobs and public life in the United States.” It isevident that bilingual education needs to be abolished and immersion programsimplemented. If immersion programs were implemented and enforced throughout theUnited States, they would result in a brighter future for the United Statesnon-English proficient youth (Glodis).

Bibliography”Bilingual Education.” Education Week on the Web. (1999): n.pag. Online.

Internet. 31 Jan. 2000. Available:, Kirk. “Bilingual Education.” New York Times Upfront 1 Nov. 1999:37. Glodis, Guy W. “Current Bilingual Education Fails.” Worcester, MATelegram and Gazette 27 Jan. 2000: n.pag. Online. Internet. 10 Feb. 2000. King,Robert D. “Should English be the Law?” The Atlantic Monthly April 1997:55-64. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000. Porter, Rosalie. “The Case AgainstBilingual Education.” The Atlantic Monthly May 1998: 28-32. Rodreguez,Gregory. “English Lesson in California.” The Nation 20 April 1998: 15-17.

Rothstein, Richard. “Bilingual Education: The Controversy.” Phi Delta KappanMay 1998: 672. Proquest. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000. Streisand, Betsy. “Isit Hasta la Vista for Bilingual Education?” U.S. News Online: Citizens Toolbox(1999): n.pag. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000. Available:, Brian. “English for the Children.” 1997: n.pag. Online. Internet. 5Feb. 2000. Available: Wildavsky, Ben. “Put a Stop toBilingual Education! Manana!” U.S. News and World Report 5 April 1999: n.pag.

Works Consulted Horsburgh, Susan. “Divided by Language: Northern TerritoryAxes Bilingual Education for Aborigines, Sparking Charges of CulturalNeglect.” Time International 22 Feb. 1999: 46. Zelasko, Nancy F. “BilingualEducation.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1998 ed.

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