the issue of bilingual education

November, 1996
 1. The Issue of Bilingual Education
    A. Importance
Bilingual education is a topic on which almost everyone has an opinion.  In this country, the debate has gone on for decades as to the pros and cons of this method of education.  As the population of students who need special language education continues to grow at an incredible pace, our society must examine the facts surrounding this issue and analyze the best way of educating this group of people.  While bilingual education is available today, there are still inequalities within the educational system.  This paper examines these inequalities, and how a variety of public opinions and policies affects bilingual educational programs.  My interest in writing this paper is to examine the inequalities of bilingual education, as well as to suggest some remedies which might improve the current method of education.  I am especially interested in the financial and social implications of denying bilingual education to the minorities which receive that form of education.
In the United States, bilingual education is a federally funded mandate, under the 1968 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title VII.  This Act funds approximately 1,000 bilingual education programs, as well as bilingual programs in most urban school systems.  These programs have been put into place as a result of pressures from the community, judicial system, and federal and state governments, often with promises of funding.  Rarely have school districts implemented the programs out of the interest of better education, which causes bilingual education to be viewed as non-mainstream education.  Bilingual programs are generally preparatory programs for students who are unable to function in a mainstream classroom due to language limitations.  The programs equip them with a necessary level of English fluency so that they can be mainstreamed with the mono-lingual educational system.  (Griego-Jones 2).
Bilingual education includes a wide range of programs.  In some programs, the primary language of the students is used very little in the classroom, if at all.  In other programs, it is the only language used.  (Hakuta and Gould 1).  This broad range of programs accommodates various demographic groups who come to America with varying levels of English skills.
    B. Demographics
The population of California is more diverse than any other state in the country, which makes our state a necessary leader in bilingual education.  The chart below shows the population of California as of the 1990 census.  As one can see, it is comprised primarily of Americans of European descent, followed by those of Latin descent, Asian descent and African descent.  (Diversity Project 3).
[Chart: European descent 58%, Latino descent 26%, Asian descent 9%, African descent 7%]
The diverse population represented in California brings many different language groups into the classrooms.  Over 32% of the state student population is language minority, meaning that English is their second language.  Over two million California students (20% of the total students) do not speak English well enough to be mainstreamed into the educational system (�What are the most common language groups for LEP students?�).  This number has tripled in the last decade (Olsen and Mullen 1).  These students do not have an equal chance at getting a good education as students who speak English, unless they are educated in a classroom where their language is used.  The chart below shows that the native languages of the students in California who need bilingual education is Spanish (73%), followed distantly by Vietnamese (4%).  The remaining students (23%, or almost 500,000) speak one of eighteen other languages, ranging from Hmong (1.8%) to Polish (.03%).  This diversity among languages means that in order to accommodate the needs of the students, a variety of languages must be represented in the bilingual programs.  (�What are the most common language groups for LEP students?�).  Unfortunately, there is a critical lack of bilingual teachers available to work with these students, which results in many of the students spending the majority of their days in mainstream classrooms with teachers who have little ability in terms of support or preparation to communicate with them, let alone educate them (Olsen and Mullen 1).  These factors present a tremendous inequality.  It is not difficult to find a teacher and resources for a Spanish bilingual education program to serve the 73% of non-English speaking students.  But what about the 500,000 students who speak one of eighteen different languages?  Does each school, no matter how small the language population, have to have a bilingual program to accommodate all non-English speaking students?  Oftentimes, the students end up without bilingual education, having to struggle in mainstreamed classes (Brown).  Additional problems which create inequalities within bilingual education are created by the schools themselves.  When teachers test students for their skills in English, the tests are often misapplied.  Additionally, students are frequently rushed through bilingual education programs in order to make room for incoming students.  (Krashen 5).
Most of the two million students in need of bilingual education are located in five counties in California:  Los Angeles (333,373), Orange (64,544), San Diego (46,784), Santa Clara (31,908), and Fresno (22,599).  This concentration places an added strain on those counties for teachers capable of teaching bilingual education classes.  Such teachers are often unavailable, and even when they are available, proper training is either not provided, or no properly funded. (Ho 1).  In most of these urban areas, the school districts are especially tight for money, which means resources are scarce.  Often, urban schools have fewer books in their libraries than do suburban schools, which presents an unfair disadvantage to the urban students.  Several studies reported in Look Who�s Talking showed that the number of books in school libraries are a direct indicator of test scores.  (Christison and Bassano 16).
[Chart: Language Groups in California Schools.  Spanish 73%, 18 Other Languages 23%, Vietnamese 4%]
The problem of how to give equal treatment to all members of non-English speaking populations is difficult.  The government has mandated that bilingual education should be provided for the majority minority languages, which, in the case of California, is Spanish and Vietnamese.  But what of the remaining 500,000 students?  They have an unequal chance of learning English, and our current system does not address that problem to a satisfactory end.
2. Development
    A. Historical
Bilingualism in America is not a new concept.  In 1776, the Articles of Confederation were printed in German and French, as well as English.  The U.S. Constitution does not even remotely mention an official language, and the concept of democracy would seem to suggest leaving language choices up to the individual, with a higher priority being political liberty than homogeneity of the culture.  Eighteenth century newspaper advertisements made references to bilingualism in an effort to draw customers. (Brown).
Bilingual education in America was first instituted in the nineteenth century.  Between 1839 and 1880, many public schools in Ohio, Louisiana and New Mexico used German, French and Spanish for instruction.  Between 1880 and 1917, bilingual schools used German and English for instruction in Ohio, Minnesota and Maryland.  In private schools throughout the Midwest, bilingual education was extensively used before 1800.  The most widely used languages were German, French, Scandinavian and Dutch.  One such school is the Lycee Francais, which still operates today in New York City.  In nineteenth century California, 18% of all state supported education was in Spanish.  (Lopez 4).
Public interest in bilingual education decreased as a result of the isolationism of the two world wars.  In fact, laws were instituted, and tens of thousands of citizens were prosecuted, simply for speaking languages other than English in public or in private.  In the late 1950�s, interest in foreign languages began to build as a result of our victory in the wars, and a renewed interest in technology.  After the Soviet launch of the first manmade earth satellite, there was an increased educational focus in the areas of math, science and foreign language.  The revolution in Cuba brought an influx of Spanish speaking residents to the southern United States, and as a result, in 1959 Miami public schools introduced bilingual programs.  These programs quickly spread throughout the southern United States as their effectiveness was publicized.  (Escamilla 6).
In 1968, the Title VII Bilingual education Act was passed as a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  This act authorized (but did not mandate) funds for local school districts, specifically intended for programs for students speaking languages other than English.  In its first year, Title VII funded seventy-six bilingual programs covering fourteen different languages.  Throughout the history of bilingual education, Spanish has been the majority language serviced by bilingual education.  (Escamilla 6).
In 1974, the Supreme Court decided the case of Lau v. Nichols, which held that school programs conducted entirely in English denied equal access to education to students speaking other languages.  The Court directed that all students who do not speak English must be served in some meaningful way.  Supporters of bilingual education compare the Lau decision to Brown v. Board of Education, but the decision did not, however, mandate bilingual education.  (Escamilla 6).  After the Court�s ruling, several states, including Massachusetts and California, passed bilingual education mandates, which defined what the bilingual education programs should consist of and who qualified for instruction under the programs.  In 1980, California reformed its education code to stipulate that if ten or more students exclusively speak one language, then a bilingual education classroom must be established at that school.  (Brown).
In the 1980�s, William Bennett, Secretary of Education under President Regan, publicly doubted the effectiveness of bilingual education.  This and several other economic factors pertaining to immigration brought about a backlash against bilingual education, focusing on a desire to teach �English-only� in public schools.  Several states, including Colorado, repealed their bilingual statutes.  By 1988, fourteen states had passed �English-only� legislation in an attempt to make English the official language of the state.  (Escamilla 6).
     B. Present
Bilingual education is currently mandated under the California Education Code, Chapter 7.  The Code was modified by AB1329 in 1976 and AB507 in 1980 to include provisions for bilingual education in California public schools.  The 1976 amendment, titled the Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act of 1976, states that:
"The Legislature finds that there are more than 288,000 school age children who are limited English proficient and who do not have the English language skills necessary to benefit from instruction only in English...  Their lack of English language communication skills presents an obstacle to such pupils' right to an equal educational opportunity which can be removed by instruction and training in the pupils' primary languages while such pupils are learning English.  The Legislature recognizes that the school dropout rate is excessive among [these] pupils ... This represents a tremendous loss in human resources and in potential personal income and tax revenues.  Furthermore, high rates of joblessness among these dropouts contribute to the unemployment burden of the state."  (California Education Code s52161).
Under the Code, students having difficulties learning in English only classrooms must be tested and certified to be Limited English Proficient (LEP). Even if only one student in the entire school district qualifies as LEP, that student must receive bilingual instruction in that student's primary language. The code states that, "Each pupil of limited English proficiency enrolled in the California public school system in kindergarten through grade 12 shall receive instruction in a language understandable to the pupil which recognizes the pupil's primary language and teaches the pupil English" (California Education Code s52165).
Despite laws which would seem to greatly benefit students who do not speak English, there are many problems. Initial assessments of English fluency are often incorrect and wrongly applied. Untrained and uninformed school staff members who administer assessment tests often assume that students who know the ABCs are fluent in English. Three in five students who need bilingual education spend most of their day in English-only classrooms. The bilingual education that they do receive, often only one hour a day, is many times fragmented and not intensive enough to allow them to comprehend what is happening in the English-only classrooms.  Finally, nine percent of immigrant students fall through the cracks and receive no bilingual education at all, meaning that these students sit in classrooms with no ability to understand what is taking place. These problems are due to a lack of funds, educator and administrator training, or the student's parents not being able to actively participate in their child's education. None of this contributes to a positive self-esteem for the student. (Olsen & Chen 6).
     C. Future
The number of students in the United States who have a limited command of the English language is in the millions, the majority of whom speak Spanish (Escamilla 6).  Clearly, some constructive program must be established to educate these students so that they can become productive members of our society. Current laws, such as the California Education Code, public opinion and research will continue to shape and influence bilingual education in America. The Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs at George Washington University states that the goals of bilingual education are as follows (OBEMLA):  Help limited English proficient students master English, and help limited English proficient students master challenging content in all areas of the curriculum. 
Two ways to build on our current knowledge of bilingual education are to assess each community's linguistic needs, and to implement two way bilingual education programs. Assessing each community's linguistic needs can assist school districts design an appropriate program for bilingual education. Students' cultural and linguistic backgrounds need to be considered in establishing classroom strategies for education. The goal of two way bilingual education programs is to achieve fluency in both the student's primary language, and English. Most current bilingual programs only aim to replace the student's primary language with English, rather than treating the primary language as an asset to build upon. In contrast, two way bilingual programs result in an increased prestige to the minority language and culture, as well as an increase in students' self esteem. A fundamental part of future bilingual education programs must be the careful monitoring and supervision of such programs. This type of evaluation will help enhance our understanding of bilingual education as well as refine the programs to meet the changing needs of the population. (Hakuta and Gould 6).
3. Comparison Between California and British Columbia
Regardless of the country, bilingual education includes a wide range of programs.  In some programs, the preliminary language of the students is used very little in the classroom, if at all.  In other programs, it is the only language used.  (Hakuta and Gould 1).  This broad range of programs accommodates various demographic groups who come to America with varying levels of English skills.
British Columbia has a similar linguistic situation as California, in that they have two fairly large groups of languages being spoken:  English and French.  Unlike California, however, British Columbia mandates that the official languages of the province are English and French.  This eliminates the labeling of their bilingual education programs as �special� or �non-mainstream.�  Canadian law ensures that French speaking Canadians will have an equal access to the exact same facilities and instruction as the English speaking students.
The current California bilingual education policy mandates bilingual education in areas which, due to adverse political pressure, would otherwise choose to not teach in bilingual classrooms.  In doing this, the policy provides for an equal opportunity at education for language minority students in the state of California.  Not only are the languages which are represented by large numbers of students served, but all language minority students in need of bilingual education, regardless of their populations, are served by the policy.
California policy provides that bilingual education should teach subjects, such as math, science or history, while teaching English.  In this fashion, academic growth is not delayed while the students learn English, which helps keep them on track with English speaking students of their age group.  The California policy allows for enough flexibility within the school systems that districts are able to develop teaching philosophies that better serve their students (Brown).
In addition to the educational benefits, the California policy provides for a cultural shock buffer.  Immigrating to a new culture is psychologically traumatic for many students, and bilingual education in California assists in the assimilation of these students into the school system.  Students are eased into their environment slowly through bilingual education, which prepares them for inclusion in the mainstreamed classes.  Bilingual education provides a means to alleviate rejection, confusion and teasing, while building bridges between the various populations of students.  (Brown).
In British Columbia, bilingual education is radically different than in California.  British Columbia faces the same linguistic challenges that Californians face, mostly brought about by immigration, but their approach is much more conducive to learning the dominant language.  Unlike California, Canada, and specifically British Columbia, has an official language law.  All government functions are to be conducted in both English and French, in order to accommodate the two major languages spoken in Canada.  Unlike America, no officially government sanctioned accommodations are made for other minority language speakers, as it is believed to be their responsibility to learn the official languages.  (French Programs Branch Mandate).
A specific branch of British Columbian government, called the French Programs Branch, is responsible for coordinating bilingual education within the province.  Among the branch�s duties are:  Coordinating education in French in British Columbia through various programs; supporting students, parents and school staff; developing curricula; coordinating a distance learning network; training; managing funding; monitoring programs; collaborating with other provinces; and liaising with other branches of government.  (French Programs Branch Mandate). 
As one can see, British Columbia has quite an extensive program for implementing bilingual education.  This program comes at considerable financial expense to taxpayers, but the Canadian government and society have mandated that both languages be the official languages of the country.  Because of this acceptance, British Columbia avoids the stigma which California has placed on not being able to speak English, despite our lack of an official language.
Officially recognizing the majority languages in the province of British Columbia has numerous educational and societal benefits.  The official recognition eliminates governmental discrimination against French speaking citizens, avoids placing a stigma on French speaking citizens, and allows those who speak French to participate in the government and educational systems.  The British Columbian bilingual educational system cultivates both English and French cultures, which benefits society by officially encouraging diversity.
Regardless of their native language, students in the British Columbian educational system are encouraged to become bilingual.  This added flexibility gives students an advantage over their mostly monolingual American counterparts, and increases their functionality and acceptance in their culture.  This bilingualism translates into all of British Columbian society.  Street signs, maps, movies, posters and billboards are all either in English or French, or both, with no negative stigma attached to either language.  Many businesses, including restaurants and service-oriented shops, have their menus and signs in both languages.  This, they have found, increases their customer base, and provides for more flexibility when serving their clients.
On the other hand, while the Canadian system is certainly beneficial when compared to the Californian system, there are some problems which can�t e overlooked.  IN the last decade, British Columbia has faced an increased immigration rate from the Pacific Rim, especially Hong Kong, due to the Chinese takeover.  The educational system of British Columbia does not accommodate those who speak languages other than English and French.  Those students must fend for themselves in the extensive, but costly, private educational system which British Columbia has.  This lack of official support for language minority students may lead to many of the problems which California was facing before bilingual education was mandated.  Increased social expenditures such as welfare and unemployment are due to the fact that the language minorities are unable to fully function in society, especially since British Columbia does not support minority language programs such as voter information in languages other than French and English.
4. Solutions
    A. Beneficial
A society has two choices when dealing with a minority group. They can either ignore or relate to the minority. Minority members, however, are restricted in their options. They must either assimilate into the dominant culture, or risk marginal status. This experience has sometimes been referred to as "Angle-conformity." In the United States becoming an "American" means leaving cultural ways behind and acting according to the explicit and implicit rules of the dominant culture. It is frequently extremely difficult, if not impossible, to overcome the barrier of becoming culturally adept in the dominant culture's ways and customs. In some cases, resistance to conformity has been considered subversive, intolerable, and un-American. Failure to learn and utilize the dominant culture's skills and customs results in exclusion or marginalized participation in the society's key institutions. One of these skills is the language of the dominant culture, in our case, English, and this presents a paradox. As a society, we expect minority cultures to embrace our ways and means, including our language, yet we are resistant to provide a forum for them to accomplish this. We expect those coming to this country to speak English, yet we resist providing them the resources necessary to learn the language. (Diversity Project 51). 
While bilingual education has benefited hundreds of thousands of California students, there are many problems, not the least of which is a lack of public support. The goals for bilingual education, as outlined above, must be clearly communicated to the public. The current publicity of bilingual education is that the program costs California too much money which could be better spent teaching people who already know English. This tries to hide the fact that students who cannot speak English will end up costing California more in the long run than if we simply provided the necessary education now. necessary education now.
In order for a program to succeed, the following environmental components are necessary:
1. Support from the three branches of government
2. A well educated base of teachers capable of providing the necessary instruction
3. Material support in terms of books and supplies
4. Financial support from the taxpayers
5. Public support
Properly organized bilingual programs work because they provide background information in the primary (native) language, which serves to make the second language more comprehensible. Successful programs should include the following goals (Kranshen 50):
1. To allow students to develop high levels of proficiency in the English language.
2. To develop a student's positive self concept.
3. To provide comprehensible input (teaching) in English.
4. To provide subject matter teaching in the primary language without translation.
5. To provide literacy in the primary language.
6. To provide an orientation to the dominant culture in order to combat culture shock.
7. To provide equal opportunity for academic achievement.
When these environmental and system goals are met, the successful bilingual education program will result in teaching students not only English, but also subject matters such as math and science.
    B. Harmful
Harmful proposals include those which eliminate the beneficial components of bilingual education, as outlined above, or those which would do away with bilingual education entirely. Opponents of bilingual education point to poor test results and mismanagement of resources. Certainly, there is room for improvement, but eliminating bilingual education programs all together, which is the main alternative proposal, would certainly do more harm than good. Because most of these students lack the resources to learn English through private means, eliminating these programs would result in millions of students in California alone sitting in classrooms, unable to learn due to language barriers. These students will quickly drop out of school, becoming unproductive, if not dangerous, members of our society. The same people who opposed bilingual education will then complain about the rising crime rate, the rising cost of welfare, the rising unemployment rate, and all of the other problems which will occur as a result of eliminating bilingual education.
An ongoing debate exists about which of the two forms of bilingual education is best: Immersion or submersion. Immersion serves to develop literacy in both the primary and secondary (English) languages, but problems occur because of limited resources, a lack of community support, and because it tends to slow down the English-only classrooms. The alternative, submersion, has a simple goal of developing proficiency in the second language, English. While more straightforward and requiring fewer resources, it is difficult to teach students a language they do not know without using the language they do know. Further, it is difficult to maintain a positive self concept because the student lacks motivation and ability. (Lopez 10). An open debate among government officials and professional educators must take place in order to dispel the propaganda which exists in our society over the costs and benefits of bilingual education. Only then can our society made a decision as to the proper course of action to educate this population.
Brown, Dr. Cameron L. Personal Interview. 21Sept. 1996. (267-8849).
California Education Code. <www.> (28 Sept. 1996).
Christison, M. and S. Bassano. Look Who's Talking. Alemany Press, Hayward, CA. 1981.
"Diversity Project." U.C. Berkeley: Institute for the Study of Social Change. 1991.
Escamilla, Kathleen. "A Brief History of Bilingual Education in Spanish." ERIC Digest.  1989. <> (28 Sept. 1996).
Griego-Jones, Toni. "Implementing Bilingual Education is Everybody's Business." NCBE Focus Occasional Papers in Bilingual Education. 11 (1995): 1-3.
Hakuta, Kenji and Laurie Could. Synthesis of Research on Bilingual Education. N.D.
Ho, Deborah. Immigrant Children: Current Status. 1990.
Krashen, Dr. Stephen. Beyond the Basics of Language Education. Torrance, CA: N.D.
Lopez, Richard "Bilingual Education: Separating Fact From Fiction." NCBE Report. Sept. 1995: 4.
Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs. What is the role of bilingual education?  <> (28 Sept 1996).
Olsen, Laurie and Marcia Chen. The World Enrolls. N.D.
Olsen, Laurie and Nina Mullen. Embracing Diversity: Teacher's Voices from California Classrooms. N.D.
San Jose Unified School District. District Materials for Grades K-5. N.D.
"What are the most common language groups for LEP students?" Ask NCBEE. 1993.      < (21 Sept. 1996).

Popular posts from this blog

power elite vs pluralist explanation models

big 4 vs. law firm comparison from an industry perspective

california bar exam primer