Discussions of Bilingual Education

In the United States, most politicized discussions of bilingual education policy have focused on language minority children. Frequently, their backgrounds in languages other than English are assumed to be the cause of their educational deficiencies. Title VII policies were largely predicated on this view, even though advocates of bilingual education tend to see minority languages as personal and societal resources rather than as detriments.

At best, the deficit view has tended to result in policies aimed only at accommodating children from home backgrounds in which languages other than English were spoken and lower expectations for their academic achievement were accepted. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, there has been much fanfare regarding the need to promote higher expectations for all children.

Nevertheless, as critics have pointed out, NCLB has provided no clear direction on how to promote equitable programs and meaningful assessment of language minority children. Thus, NCLB has left language minority children in a policy limbo. The primary debate has been over whether to assess children through English and how quickly to do so, although it has been widely recognized that most language minority children will not perform well on tests administered in English when these children have not had sufficient time to develop English and academic skills.

Proponents of NCLB have countered that all children must be held to high standards to ensure accountability. A possible danger in this scenario is that high standards, along with underfunded and poorly planned programs, fail to result in the level playing field needed for high achievement. Again, a negative note in the history of federally supported bilingual education is that even as opponents of bilingual decried the "failure" of bilingual education, the vast majority of children eligible for Title VII services were not receiving instruction in their home languages and often received no specially designed instruction to develop the English language skills needed for advanced academic instruction.

In some states restricting bilingual education, such as in California even prior to the passage of its Proposition 227, teachers in so-called bilingual programs often did not speak the home language of many children. Again, these programs were labeled "bilingual" merely because the children came from homes where languages other than English were taught.

Thus, based on the erroneous assumption that children in "bilingual" programs were receiving instruction in languages other than English, rather than in English alone, bilingual education policies were blamed when language minorities under-performed on standardized tests in English.

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