Out With the Old and In With What Really Works


English 101

6 Nov 2002

Bilingual education has long been a controversial issue. In 1968, the intensity of the debate increased when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law and politicians started taking sides. Title VII was written to encourage schools to implement bilingual programs. In general, Democrats believe that it is the government and schools’ responsibility to help immigrants to retain their native language and culture as well as teach them English proficiency. Republicans, on the other hand, usually agree that the only responsibility of the government and schools is to teach limited English proficient (LEP) students English as quickly as possible.

But what exactly is bilingual education? By definition 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 (Worsnap 3). Linda Chavez, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity has said, “With 20 million immigrants now living in our country, it’s more important than ever to teach newcomers to think of themselves as Americans if we hope to remain one people and not simply a conglomeration of different groups. And one of the most effective ways of forging that sense of unity is through a common language.” With that in mind, it seems that the most significant problem surrounding bilingual education is that the current approaches take longer than the government approved two to three years to teach immigrant students English. Although many bilingual education studies tend to contradict one another, there is an abundance of evidence to support one particular approach for teaching LEP students English.


I believe the problem with bilingual education can be solved by using ESL (English as a Second Language) in place of the bilingual programs most commonly used in schools.

In America today, Transitional bilingual education (TBE) is the most common approach for teaching immigrants English in our schools. TBE teaches subjects such as math and science in the LEP student’s native language and teaches reading in both languages until students gain enough English proficiency to be moved into mainstream classes (Worsnap 4). “The majority of elementary school programs have as their goal exiting a student after 3 years,” says Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University and co-author of Bilingual Education Reform in Massachusetts. “But these programs also allow students to stay in the program longer than three years . . . Indeed, many children stay in a bilingual program throughout their elementary school career (Rossell 19)”. In contrast to TBE, ESL is an immersion program where LEP students are in a regular classroom the majority of the day, but are pulled out of class for one or two periods for English-intensive instruction (Rossell 19). I believe that ESL is the best solution because it teaches LEP students English faster, it does not spend time trying to retain the students’ native language, and it would most likely cost taxpayers less money.

The main reason I see ESL as the most promising alternative to the fiasco of bilingual education is because studies show that LEP students learn English much faster through this program. According to Keith Baker, an independent social science consultant, “One study using a nationally representative sample of over 300 programs of LEP’s, found that depending on the type of program, the average length of time that students were in a special program for LEP\'s was 2.6 to 3.5 years. This study also showed that students remained longer in programs as the use of Spanish increased in their program (Baker 30).” In addition, Rosalie Pedalino Porter, author of Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education states that, “[it will not surprise]


anyone to learn that at all grade levels students in ESL classrooms exited faster than those served in bilingual classrooms.” She continues, “Most students in the ESL program were out of it in two to three years, while most students in bilingual classes took four to seven years to move into regular classrooms (Porter 35)”. We have spent 25 years using an approach that originally promised results in two to three years, but instead it has become a long-term Spanish development program (Peterson 81).