Bilingual Education The Present System Needs to be Changed Essay

Bilingual Education: The Present System Needs to be Changed

Bilingual education programs have been implemented for decades. Non-English speaking

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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

Erie 8
Works Cited

“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.

Proquest. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000.

Streisand, Betsy. “Is it Hasta la Vista for Bilingual Education?” U.S. News Online: Citizens
Toolbox (1999): n.pag. Online. Internet. 11 Feb. 2000. Available:
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/enghigh.htm
Taylor, Brian. “English for the Children.” 1997: n.pag. Online. Internet. 5 Feb. 2000. Available:
http://www.onenation.org/
Wildavsky, Ben. “Put a Stop to Bilingual Education! Manana!” U.S. News and World Report 5
April 1999: n.pag.

Works Consulted

Horsburgh, Susan. “Divided by Language: Northern Territory Axes Bilingual Education for
Aborigines, Sparking Charges of Cultural Neglect.” Time International 22 Feb. 1999: 46.

Zelasko, Nancy F. “Bilingual Education.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1998 ed.

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