Bilingual Education: The Present System Needs to be Changed
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. States 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
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Proquest. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000.
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