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Bilingual Education: Overview and Online Resources

Bilingual education means instruction in two languages. In general, however, it refers to a range of classroom strategies that include instruction in the student's primary language.

Bilingual education policies vary by state. In some states, students who require help learning English may be called "English language learners" or "limited English proficient"

In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, an initiative that limits non-English language instruction for students who are learning English. It requires that new English learner (EL) students be instructed in English in a special class for one year, after which students are mainstreamed into regular classes and possibly provided with extra support. After the first month of school, parents may petition a school to provide instruction in the students' native language as well as in English.

Bilingual programs are based on research showing that children will learn to read more quickly in English if they are taught to read in their native language first. For example, bilingual proponents believe that a 10-year-old student moving to the U.S. from Mexico who cannot read Spanish will have trouble reading English right away; the first step should be to teach him to read in Spanish, then to help him learn to decode English. While bilingual programs have been around for almost 100 years, recently they have come under fire due to concerns that children are not mastering English sufficiently. Opponents of bilingual education argue that the quickest path to helping students read and speak English is by immersing them in English.

Although educators may continue to debate bilingual education, if current political trends continue, schools and districts will be decreasing the emphasis on teaching students in their native language and focusing instead on teaching in English.

If your child is an English learner, you'll need to make up your own mind about what's right for your child. Since bilingual education policies vary by state, check with your district to find out more about how bilingual education is handled in your school and, if necessary, to advocate for appropriate bilingual policies in your community.

Apr 13,2009
Proposition 227 has been the downfall for ELL students in California. I was a bilingual teacher in your state before the passage of this initiative. I am a product of LAUSD and UCLA. I came back to teach a few years ago after the passage of your initiative. What a disgrace. I have 100% pass rate in a school similar to LAUSD school in Fort Worth. With dual language transitional bilingual education at our school, 88% of our ELL kids are passing the Texas TAKS Test in English! At least, 20% commended! Shame on California. It used to be the 'Golden State' in the 1960's and 1970's. I am about to assume an assistant principalship in an inner city school with a 96% poverty level, 71% ELL's 19% African American. Poverty is no excuse for mediocrity. Kids can achieve when instructed with proven pedagogy that works!

Jul 18,2008
I moved to Italy with my 3 children when they where 5, 6 and 7 years old. We put in the local school where they did not speack a word of Italian. By the end of the year they where fluent in Italian. 3 years later we moved back to the US and my children had to learn to read and write in English, it took them about 4 month to learn. I happy to say that all 3 of my children graduated from hgh school with honors and are currently in college and doing fabulous!

Apr 30,2008
immersion of ell learners in English, will only create students illiterate in two languages. Dual Language programs following 50/50 model with team teaching, have proved to be very successful in creating students literate in two languages.

Apr 23,2008
Hi, My family and I are moving to Phoenix area in the next months. We are from Mexico. I have two kids, the older is going to be 4 years early october, and the little one is just an almost 5 month old baby, so I don't think the moving will be a problem for him. But I am concerned about the big kid, since he does not speak english. I have been doing some research about english learners and schools but I still don't know for sure if all Arizona schools have the english learners programs (I think it is AZELLA) So it would be great if you help me to clarify this issue. Thanks a lot in advance for your kind help.

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