Bilingual Education


English 101

19 December, 2002

The debate over bilingual education is nothing if not emotional. The two sides seem to be spurred on by political opinions from liberals and conservatives who want to further their own cause. In general terms, that cause, in relation to bilingual education for liberals is that diverse languages and customs enrich the U.S. cultural stew and should be allowed to flourish (Worsnap 6). Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that the mission of U.S. schools is to nurture a common language – English – and a common national identity (Worsnap 6). The issue over bilingual education goes back several decades, even a century, in America’s history. When this country was founded, people came from around the globe to create a new place to live in freedom and peace. So, from the very beginning of our nation’s inception, there has been a need to teach newcomers English. At first this was accomplished by complete submersion. There were no “programs” set up by the government, only a strong desire by those immigrants to become a part of their new country. Until the 1960’s, interest in bilingual education was limited. Then public and political interest increased when thousands of Cuban refugees started pouring into South Florida after Fidel Castro gained power in 1959 (Dunlap 8). At that time, Dade County (Miami) wanted to help arriving children to adjust to their new country, so in 1963 they became the first county to begin an experimental bilingual education program in first to third grades at their Coral Way Elementary School (Dunlap 8). Because this experiment was deemed a success after just a few years, widespread support for bilingual education helped advocates persuade lawmakers to fund bilingual programs during congressional hearings in 1967; and they


were successful when by President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the proposition in January 1968 (Dunlap 8). The bilingual education act, adopted as Title IIV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), made available federal money for bilingual programs. Although the act did not require local school districts to establish bilingual programs, it did encourage their development by offering grants. In 1974 the act was broadened and clarified the federal role in bilingual education, and for the first time, federal money was made available for training teachers and developing curricula and instructional materials (Dunlap 9).

“Bilingual education started out in 1968 as a modest $7.5 million pilot program to help (immigrant) children learn English. Today it’s a $5 billion boondoggle [including federal, state and local funds] that actually prevents kids from acquiring the language that will determine their economic and social success as adults,” writes Rosalie Pesalino Porter, author of the 1990 book Forked Tongue: the Politics of Bilingual Education and chairman of the Institute for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) (qtd. in Worsnap 6). This opinion is shared by many experts in the field of bilingual education and also the side that I will discuss in depth in this paper. But first, what exactly is bilingual education and what different approaches are available to teach limited English proficient (LEP) students English?

The definition of bilingual education is: instruction for those who do not speak English, by teachers who use the students’ native language at least part of the day. The term usually has meant teaching students to be fluent in two languages (Worsnap 3). There are four basic alternatives for instructing LEP children. The first of these is immersion or “sink or swim”. In this model, the LEP child is placed in a regular English classroom with English monolingual children and given no more special help than any child with educational problems (Rossell 19). A second technique is English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, which consists of regular classroom instruction for most of the day combined with a special pull out program of


English language instruction for one or two periods a day, or in some districts two or three periods per week, and participation in the regular classroom for the rest of the time (Rossell 19). A third instructional technique is structured immersion, where instruction is in the English language in a self-contained classroom of LEP children. The English used in these programs is always geared to the children’s language