Bilingual education programs have been implemented for decades. Non-English speaking students in bilingual education programs, however, have shown no academic or social improvement compared to similar students in English-only schools. The disadvantages of bilingual education programs outnumber the advantages. In addition, recent statistics suggest the need for reconstruction of the present bilingual education programs.
Schools began teaching academics in languages other than English as early as the 1700’s, but not until the 1960’s did society recognize the hundreds of thousands of non-English speaking students struggling in the current system. Before that time, immigrants were enrolled in non-English schools.
The fight for a bilingual education program started during the Civil Rights Movement. Immigrants, especially Latin and Mexican Americans, observed the progress that African Americans were making and decided to fight for “equal education.” More than 50 percent of Spanish speaking students were dropping out of school each year. The schools found a definite need for intervention.
In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act which provided federal assistance to school districts to develop bilingual education programs. Bilingual education programs were designed to teach non-English speaking students in their native language. Theoretically, with this kind of instruction, students’ test scores and college admittance would increase and lead to brighter career paths for students not proficient in English. Federal law was expanded in 1974 when the Equal Education Opportunity Act was signed in order to strengthen the rights of non-English speaking students. This act ruled that public schools must provide programs for students who speak little or no English.
Rosalie Porter, author of “The Case Against Bilingual Education,” additionally points out that this was the first time that the Federal Government “dictated” how non-English speaking students should be educated (28). With such government support, bilingual education looked like a program that would be the solution for the education of non-English speaking students. The bilingual education program has a noble purpose and worthwhile objectives.
The purpose of the bilingual education program is to teach non-English speaking students in their native language, therefore improving their academic achievement and giving them more educational opportunities. Noted writer Brian Taylor author of “English for the Children,” points out the many objectives of the bilingual education program: the first objective is to teach students basic academic subjects in their native language therefore increasing their academic progress.
The program was also designed to teach the students both reading and writing skills in their native language and eventually to immerse them into classes taught in English. Students in bilingual education programs learn English from the time they enter school. All their academic classes, however, are taught in their native language. After three years of English instruction, students are put into English-only classes. The purpose of these objectives is to preserve the students’ culture at school (Taylor).
As reported from “Education Week on the Web,” bilingual education programs are based on a maintenance program which preserves the students’ native language skills while teaching English as a second language (“Bilingual Education”). This program would make it easier for the student to learn English without risking success in academic classes. Bilingual education programs sound beneficial; however, after implementation for over 30 years, the results seen from bilingual education are not as positive as one would expect. Bilingual education programs have not lived up to expectations. Bilingual education programs are costing the United States billions of dollars. Statistics show that students in these programs are not showing academic improvement.
The programs 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 schools are not proficient in English, and only five percent are gaining proficiency each year. Many students leave school with limited spoken English and almost no ability to read and write in English (Taylor).
In some cases, California students in bilingual education programs have taken more than eight years to complete, rather than the expected three years. Each year, only six percent of Californian children in bilingual education classes are adequately prepared to move into English classes. Unfortunately, drop-out rates are also increasing. Seventeen percent of Hispanics in bilingual classes drop out compared to the ten percent in English instruction classes. Latinos in bilingual education programs have statistics similar to those of students in English-only Bilingual education programs are not solving the problem they were intended to solve.
National test scores have shown that bilingual education students 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 of Maryland and Marie Mora from New Mexico State University which reveals the effect bilingual education has on the earnings of Latinos. First and second generation Latinos who were enrolled in bilingual education classes earned significantly less than similar peers who received “monolingual English instruction” (17).
Bilingual education programs are not improving the financial success of non-English proficient students. If the results are no better than these statistics show, what is the purpose of keeping these programs? Furthermore, the cost of bilingual education programs is outrageous. In 1968, the first year that bilingual education programs were executed, the cost was 7.5 million dollars. Since then, the United States has spent more than 400 million dollars each year on bilingual education programs. S
tates also need additional funding to hire and train paraprofessionals, and some programs even pay college tuition for paraprofessionals so that they may qualify as teachers (Porter 30). Betsy Streisand, author of “Is It Hasta la Vista for Bilingual Education?” reports that bilingual education teachers receive an extra 5,000 dollars annually for teaching. In the future funding could include more than 20,000 teachers. State and Federal governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of public money over 30 years implementing bilingual education programs, and the programs have not shown to work successfully (Streisand).
Another problem of teaching students in their native language is that this approach keeps the students from progressing in English and keeps them too dependent on their native language. Bilingual education programs have been so focused on keeping the students’ native language and culture alive that students are refraining from using English. In bilingual education programs, students speak their native language both at school and at home.
Since they have no immediate use for English, the students speak primarily in their native language. Students refraining from using English, possibly explains the reason for the low success rate for students in bilingual education programs. The programs need to be reconstructed so that the students spend more time speaking and hearing English. Reconstruction may lead to a more successful program. Another problem with these programs is that it tends to lead to segregation.
The idea behind bilingual education has grown outside of its original mission of teaching English and has lead to further segregation of non-English speaking students (Porter 31). In bilingual education programs, students only converse with other students in their native language. Even when enrolled in English taught classes, the students of bilingual education programs tend to remain segregated from the rest of the student body because they were secluded for so long in their previous bilingual education classes.
In a diverse society such as the United States, segregation only leads to conflict. When Kirk Douglas, author of “Bilingual Education,” describes the United States as a “country of immigrants,” he illustrates how the United States influx of cultures has made us stronger as a nation. He maintains that if bilingual education inhibits the coherence of our society it should not still be implemented (37).
The United States is a melting pot of different cultures. When students 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 apart countries around the world” (57).
The United States should not become another victim. Speaking English is a necessary skill needed to succeed in the United States. The United States’ job is to educate all people and teach all people English. Bilingual education programs may inhibit the reality of this goal. In contrast, Richard Rothstein, author of “Bilingual Education: The Controversy,” argues that “ teaching in ones native language reinforces ones self-worth” (672).
Statistics, however, show that “self-esteem is not higher among limited English students who are taught in their native language.” In addition, statistics prove that stress is not higher for students introduced to English from the first day of school (Porter 32). Even parents of non-English speaking students recognize that bilingual education programs are not working. Latin and Mexican Americans were the ones who sought equal education opportunity in the first place, and they are the ones who are least satisfied with the present system. The Latino opposition to native-language teaching is now more apparent than ever (Porter 31).
Immigrants witness the importance of the English language, and they want to see their children learn it as soon as possible. They are seeing no improvement in their children’s’ English from the current bilingual education programs and are in desperate need of a program that will successfully teach their children English (Streisand).
Surveys have been taken for the past ten years concerning the current bilingual education programs. A recent survey of 600 Latino parents, taken by the National Center of Equal Opportunity, showed that the majority thought learning English was more important than learning to read and write in Spanish. The survey also showed that parents favored learning English over learning other academic subjects.
In 1988, a survey was taken by the Educational Testing Service who questioned over 2900 Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Asian Americans about bilingual education. The results showed that the majority felt it was the family’s duty to teach children their native language, not the schools. Parents of non-English speaking children want their children to succeed academically, and know that learning the English language is the first step toward that goal. Bilingual education programs were designed to help these students but unfortunately the programs are only creating further hostility and frustration for these students who desperate to learn English (Porter 31).
Parents of students enrolled in bilingual education programs have done many things to try to end bilingual education. In 1997, parents of children enrolled in the bilingual education programs at the 9th street Elementary school in Los Angeles, California, kept their children out of school until the school board agreed to remove them from bilingual education programs.
The protest lasted two weeks (Streisand). Parents have also taken legal measures. A law suit was filed in September of 1995 when 150 parents from Brooklyn Public schools were angered that their children remained segregated in bilingual education programs for three to six years despite the State Education Law that states that students be immersed in English classes after three years. Even after more than three years of instruction, students were still not receiving adequate English instruction (Porter 31).
If bilingual education programs were formed to help non-English speaking students, then why are they are the ones most against the programs? Evidently, bilingual education programs are failing and that they need to be reformed. California has taken the initiative. On June 2, 1998, California passed Ron Unz’s Proposition 227, “English for the Children.”
The Proposition requires non-English speaking students to be enrolled in classes in which nearly all the instruction is in English. Ben Wildavsky, author of “Put a Stop to Bilingual Education–Now!” reports that although some school districts have not been following the Proposition. However, Ron Unz points out that “the bulk of the school districts around the state seem to be moving in the direction of the initiative” (Wildavsky).
Even other states are beginning to take the initiative. The prediction is that a similar initiative will occur on the 2000 ballot in Arizona. Another advantage of Proposition 227 is that it gives the families the right to decide for their children. The Proposition states that with the parents’ request, students can be put back into bilingual education programs. This amendment has been very positive in California. It has given the supporters of bilingual education an alternative to Proposition 227. Proposition 227 consists of “immersion” programs. Immersion programs involve students learning lessons in simple language and slowly immersing themselves in the English language.
The immersion technique requires non-English speaking students to be in classes where nearly all instruction is done in English, but at a slower pace. With this technique, most students become fluent in English after just a year before being switched into all English classes. Initially opposed to the three year program introduced by bilingual education, teachers have already reported that the students in immersion classes are picking up spoken English rapidly. They are learning far more English than in the past. With the implementation of Proposition 227, impressive results have already occurred.
Limited English students in California who transferred into immersion classes under Proposition 227 scored 20, 50 or even 100 percent better on state wide tests compared to their peers who remained in bilingual education classes. Other states have also witnessed these results and are beginning to form similar initiatives (Wildavsky).
Entrepreneur Guy W. Glodis is working on a reform in Massachusetts which revolves around the idea of immersion classes. Glodis is aware that the current “bilingual education programs are not meeting the needs of the students” (n. pag.). With more than an 84 percent support rate from the Latino culture, Proposition 227 appears to be the solution for the future of education for limited English speaking youth. Implemented in 1968, bilingual education had the best humanitarian intentions but turned out “terribly wrongheaded.”
Obviously a definite need for reform exists. From the results in California, immersion programs seem to be in the best interest for non-English proficient children. English is “the crucial skill that leads to equal opportunity in school, jobs and public life in the United States.” It is evident that bilingual education needs to be abolished and immersion programs implemented. If immersion programs were implemented and enforced throughout the United States, they would result in a brighter future for the United States’ non-English proficient.
- “Bilingual Education.” Education Week on the Web. (1999): n.pag. Online. Internet. 31 Jan. 2000. Available: http://www.edweek.org/context/topics/biling.htm
- Douglas, Kirk. “Bilingual Education.” New York Times Upfront 1 Nov. 1999: 37.
- Glodis, Guy W. “Current Bilingual Education Fails.” Worcester, MA Telegram 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 Against Bilingual 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 Kappan May 1998: 672.