This paper will summarize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Title VII Bilingual Education Act and all subsequent reauthorizations. In addition an analysis of the adequacy and implications of the current Act on the education of ELL students as well as a personal plan for staying current with Bilingual Education Act reauthorizations and amendments will be discussed.
The Bilingual Education Act can be traced as back as 1839 when Ohio passed the 1st law to officially allow Bilingual Education where the law permitted German-English instruction upon the request of the parent. In 1847 Louisiana passed a law to allow French instruction and in 1870 New Mexico passes a law permitting Spanish instruction in public elementary schools. It is interesting to note that at the same time in 1864 Congress passed a law that prohibited Native Americans from being taught in their own language and that in 1879 Native Americans were being punished for speaking in their native language. From 1889-1965 several acts were passed mandating English only instruction and allowing Native Americans the free use of their language although this was not upheld.
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Before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed on April 11, 1965 under the Johnson administration. The Act forbid the establishment of a national curriculum. As mandated in the Act, the funds are "authorized for professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and parental involvement promotion. " In the Original Law of 1965 there were six sections under Titles I-VI. Title I was Financial Assistance to Local Educational Agencies for the Education of Children of Low Income Families, Title II School Library Resources, Textbooks, and Other Instructional Material, Title III Supplementary Educational Centers and Services, Title IV Educational Research and Training, Title V Grants to Strengthen State Department of Education and VI General Provisions. These titles changed in the following years.
In 1967 the Bilingual Education Act became a federal statue under Title VII of the ESEA which provided funding for the Bilingual Education Act in 1968. 1968 was perhaps the most important year for bilingual education as it set the framework for subsequent acts and reauthorizations that followed. In a year where the Civil Rights movement was taking place the Act of 1968 encouraged schools provide Bilingual Education programs. Funding was provided to encourage local school districts to incorporate native-language instruction. In its first year the act provided funding for 76 Bilingual Education programs and served students who spoke 14 different languages. The Bill was not specific and participation by school districts was voluntary. (http://en.wikipedia...)
From 1968 to 1978 the Act failed to address the needs of LEP students who were disabled. It was also a time where there was not consistent enforcement of bilingual programs that LEP students turned to the courts to advocate for them. Other reauthorizations took place in 1974 and 1978. Almost 20 years later in 1982 an Amendment to the Bilingual Education Act was passed offering Title VII programs the option of using English-only instruction. In 1988 the Bilingual Education Act was amended under the Reagan administration. The revision defined "bilingual education program" as one that provided instruction in English and in a native language to allow students to make progress in the educational system. These were not English as a Second Language programs. The Bilingual Education Act affirmed that the "goal of the program was to prepare students to succeed in an English-medium classroom as soon as possible while maintaining their native language." The reauthorization established new categories of local bilingual education grants, the elimination of mandatory research projects, and the establishment of new categories of personnel training grants. (O'Dea 5). It also started precedence with regards to the amount of time a student is expected to learn the English language. A major change in the act stated that "there is a three year limit on a student's participation in a transitional program bilingual education or special alternative instructional program. However, under special circumstances, the student may continue in the program for up to two more years." (Bilingual Education Act) However no student may be enrolled for more than five years.
In the 1990 amendments LEP and disabled were specifically addressed. Again almost 20 years later the NCLB is passed in 2001. The act mandated that each state must "measure every public school student's "progress in reading and math from the third grade through the eight grade. Further progress must be measured at least once between the tenth and twelfth grades." (http://cerdahdzâ€¦) Specifically with regards to bilingual education programs it requires that teachers teaching in such programs be fluent in English and any other languages used in the classroom. The act gives "parents the choice to enroll their children in Bilingual Education programs, but puts a three year time-limit on bilingual programs. After a student has been in school for three consecutive years, English-only instruction must commence, regardless of the student's English speaking ability." (http://cerdhdz...)
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At the state level various Bilingual Education Acts were passed. In 1994 Proposition 187 was passed in California which would deny illegal immigrants public education, but three days after passing was stalled from being enacted. In 1998 the US District Court ruled the law unconstitutional. This case was important as it laid the foundation for Proposition 227 fours years later again in California. The proposition stated that all California students must be taught in English as "rapidly as possible." The proposition places non-English speaking students in a short-term English immersion program. Students generally do not spend more than one year in the program, however, one year after the English-only program was implemented only 7% of students who had participated were considered fluent in English. Data from 2004 showed that the achievement gap was widening for ELL's and that they were declining in a majority of grade levels.
Bilingual Education is not a new program, but rather one that was needed as early as 1839 for German speaking children to be successful in their education. Clearly there is a need for programs as the federal government has mandated this through federal law and by making revisions and amendments to the law. However, when it comes to learning a foreign language, that being English for ELL students, how many years does it take? NCLB, California's Proposition 227, and 21 seem to believe three years is sufficient. This number seems quite arbitrary and not backed by any studies as studies show what research shows "it takes a minimum of six years for most students to be tested in English on grade level in their regular school tests. And a study by Kenji Hakuta, an education professor at Stanford University, found it took four to six years for a majority of students in California district to learn academic English." (Zehr 1) Nonetheless California's law feels even three years is too much and expects one year to be sufficient. Given this limited time it should be no surprise the scores and widening gap as noted above. Setting a time limit on learning "English" for ELL's should be a concern for the schools and should not be considered in the new ESEA.
A well informed teacher on the issue of bilingual education would be in a better position for advocating for ELL students and their families. It is my intent to therefore stay current with Bilingual Education Act reauthorizations and amendments. This year it will be of even more interesting as the issue will be a current one and whatever is ultimately passed will certainly affect me personally as an ELL teacher. Ways I plan to remain current include reading scholarly journals related to bilingual education issue, frequently visiting the Department of Education website for updates, and having conversations with colleagues especially ELL teachers.
By knowing the tenets of the various acts as well as reauthorizations I am therefore informed and have the ability to meet the needs of mainstreamed ELL students and facilitate advocacy for ELL students and their families.
In conclusion, since 1839 when Ohio passed the first law to allow bilingual education until the present progress has been made for this program. However, at times certain stipulations within the act have caused frustration for the entire educational system from federal to local level, but most importantly to the student. Throughout the various reauthorizations the intent is to help the student although unfortunately the outcome may not seem as such. It is important to learn from the past in order to not repeat the same errors. The fate of a new reauthorization will be made very shortly under a different presidential administration. Considering the pitfalls of the current NCLB for the sake of students and teachers it is important that it be funded and that resources necessary be available for both to be successful. It is extremely important to remember the needs of the students and that not everyone learns the same.