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Volume 14, Number 3
May/June 1998

The Bilingual Education Debate

A long-term view may be necessary to recognize benefits of bilingual programs


This year marks the 30th anniversary of the federal Bilingual Education Act, the original legislation that created special programs for students who are learning to speak English. Yet instead of celebrations, bilingual education is facing attacks and reexamination from all sides.

In California, the state with the largest percentage of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students, voters will decide on June 2 whether bilingual classrooms should be eliminated and replaced with one-year, sheltered English-immersion classes. Officially named Proposition 227, the California ballot question comes in the wake of complaints by immigrant parents and some bilingual educators that students are languishing in bilingual classes without learning enough English.

Throughout the country, the California initiative has sparked a renewed debate about the relative effectiveness of the many different approaches to educating the growing population of LEP students. And it is also provoking some soul-searching among bilingual advocates who are arguing for the reform of bilingual education rather than its elimination.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

D. August and K. Hakuta. Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.

M. E. Brisk. Bilingual Education: From Compensatory to Quality Schooling. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.

V. P. Collier and W. P. Thomas. Language Minority Student Achievement and Program Effectiveness: Research Summary of Ongoing Study. George Mason University, 1998.

National Research Council. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998; Available from National Academy Press.

R. P. Porter. Forked Tongue: The Politics of Bilingual Education. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996.

J. Ramirez et al. Final Report: Longitudinal Study of Structured English Immersion Strategy, Early-Exit and Late-Exit Transitional Bilingual Education Programs for Language Minority Children (Vols. 1 and 2 prepared for the U.S. Department of Education). San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International, 1991.

C. H. Rossell and K. Baker. "The Educational Effectiveness of Bilingual Education." Research in the Teaching of English 30, no. 1 (February 1996): 7-74.