Bilingual education has been a highly charged and a well-debated issue with the educational system of the United States of America. There are a variety of types of bilingual education programs. The most common of them are traditional bilingual programs, dual language programs, and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.
A bilingual program traditionally consists of a focus on the student’s first language (L1) while transitioning the student into English (L2). The teacher must be fluent in both English and the student’s L1. The target of the program is for the LEP student to become proficient in English, while continuing to build fluency in his or her first language. In due course, the LEP student must become fluent in English, in order to be successful in the mainstream English-only classroom. Instruction in the lower grade levels tend to be typically in the student’s first language while a predetermined percentage of the day is spent in English instruction. Progressively, as the student becomes more fluent in English, it is spoken more frequently and less focus is placed on the student’s first language.
On the other hand, a 50/50 dual language program model consists of a classroom where one half of the students have a common primary language and one half of the students are fluent in English. In this type of program, academic instruction is delivered to students in either the primary language or English on either alternating days or subject specific. The students take on the role of peer tutors to their classmates who speak a different language. In this program, the lessons could either be taught by one teacher, who is fluent in both languages or by a co-teacher, one who speaks fluent English and the other who speaks the alternative language of the classroom. The idea is for students to become fluent in both languages. The English speaking students will become fluent in the alternate language of the classroom and the LEP students will become equally as fluent in English.
In an ESL program, students are placed in an English-only classroom where the teacher is certified to work with students who are limited in English. The student’s L1 is not spoken in the classroom and, often, the teacher is not fluent in the student’s L1. This type of program tends to have the goal of quick transition to English for the LEP students, and can has the advantage of being able to provide instruction for many students from various primary languages within the same classroom. All lessons are taught in English with the teacher using various tools and best practices for instructing the LEP students.
Bilingual education has been in existence with the United States since the early part if the 19th century with the heavy influx of European immigrants. With the involvement of the country in World War I, attitudes changed and English-only laws started to emerge. Bilingual education began to erode and LEP students started to fall behind. The civil rights movement evolved during the 1960s and, consequently, bilingual education benefitted from it. The Bilingual Education Act was passed in 1968 and several attention getting cases went before the Supreme Court arguing for stronger programs for LEP students.
Over the years following the passing of the Bilingual Education Act, much research has been done on the best way to address the needs of the LEP population within the United States. With the advent of the 21st century and the demands placed on school systems as a result of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, school systems have been looking at ways to improve upon programs specifically designed for the various special populations being served within the school system. Many schools are moving more in favor of dual language programs where they are not only address the needs of the LEP students but, also, addressing the needs of other populations such as those from economically disadvantaged environments.
With the arrival of NCLB, the standards-based reform movement reached its peak and the “Learning for All” mantra has become its battle hymn. The most important message of the standards-based movement is that all children, including gifted and talented (GT), special education, and English-language learners (ELLs), must attain the high standards set by the legislation. As a result, very specific measures have been put into place to attempt to assure that all student populations are being served appropriately. Title I of the Improving America’s Schools Act initiated the use of specific assessments (standardized tests) to determine the annual performance for all student populations within public schools across America. The NCLB Act places annual goals for all student populations in the area of achievement and implemented accountability requirements. The justification for all of this is to hold all educational institutions to the same high standards and to diminish the high school drop out rate.
The school systems within the United States have been at a crossroads for a long period of time when it comes to addressing the needs of all students and not allowing specific student populations to fall through the cracks. In an effort to tackle the challenges of accountability and standardized testing, dual language programs have been emerging in many school districts across the United States in an effort to better address the needs of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. In addition to focusing on language acquisition of English, amongst monolingual Spanish speaking students, the program also promotes the acquisition of a second language, in most cases Spanish, for monolingual English speaking students. Dual language programs are yet another form of bilingual education which was developed to address the needs of the LEP populations. The jury is still out as to which type of program is better or worse for students from a language other than English. However, dual language programs show promise as they promote bilinguality in both Spanish and English speaking populations and, ultimately, builds on the diversity, tolerance, and understanding needed for the various cultures to live together.