Bilingual Education Policies

Bilingual education policies may, for example, be designed to (a) promote English and one or more additional languages; (b) accommodate speakers of minority languages in English-only instruction; (c) restrict the use of some languages, as in the case of German during World War I; or (d) repress or even eradicate languages, as during the late 19th century, when American Indian boarding schools were used for that purpose.

Among additional factors to consider, Colin Baker, for example, suggests (a) the type of program, (b) type of child, (c) language(s) to be used in the classroom, (d) broader societal aims or goals, and (e) the language and literacy aims or goals. Baker's classification scheme also juxtaposes types of bilingual education into two broad categories: weak forms, or those that promote monolingualism and/or limited bilingualism, and strong forms, or those that promote bilingualism and biliteracy.

Identifying policies associated with specific types of programs is useful because the bilingual education label has been too elastic and ambiguous. Federally sponsored transitional bilingual education (TBE) programs, for example, have typically fallen under the former weak category. Voluntary programs, such as two-way or dual-language programs, more typically offered through elite schools, have typically fallen under the strong category. Under Title VII, TBE, submersion, also known as structured English immersion and structured English immersion with English as a Second Language (ESL) pull-out, was the most common approach.

The latter two types of programs did not involve the use of the primary language of the home. Nevertheless, because students enrolled were speakers of minority languages, these programs were often depicted as being bilingual, thus adding to the public's confusion over the types of programs in which the children were actually enrolled. As noted in the opening definition, language planning and policies are typically intended to solve communication problems.

If programs are evaluated to this end based on their goals, it is clear, critics say, that many of the programs that wear the bilingual label have neither been well-informed by language planning nor clearly connected to the goal of solving communication problems of language minority students. Structured English immersion (SEI), for example, as required in several states that have restricted bilingual education, draws more from political mandates than from any clearly articulated body of research on language acquisition.

It is not clear that many SEI programs require any extensive knowledge or training that would distinguish them from failed, unplanned, "sink or swim" English-only programs of the past.

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