The Bilingual Education Act
, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968 (or BEA) was the first piece of United States federal legislation that recognized the needs of Limited English Speaking Ability (LESA) students. The BEA was introduced in 1967 by Texas senator Ralph Yarborough
Ralph Webster Yarborough was a Texas Democratic politician who served in the United States Senate and was a leader of the progressive or liberal wing of his party in his many races for statewide office...
and was later passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on January 2, 1968. As such, it was the first federal legislation signed into law in the 1968 calendar year. The bill was passed as Title VII, an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). While many states such as California and Texas already had local and state policies to help language minority students, the BEA established the first federal policy aiding LESA students. Passed on the heels of the Civil Rights movement, its purpose was to provide school districts with federal funds, in the form of competitive grants, to establish innovative educational programs for students with limited English speaking ability. While the BEA addressed all linguistic minorities in the country, the passage of the act was spearheaded by Spanish speakers.
The BEA was a significant piece of legislation that both reflected attitudes towards diversity and education in the country.
To begin with, the BEA demonstrated "a shift from the notion that students should be afforded equal educational opportunity to the idea that educational policy should work to equalize academic outcomes, even if such equity demanded providing different learning environments."
Additionally, it reflected changes in cultural perspectives towards diversity and immigration. The BEA was an important shift away from the late 1950s anticommunist sentiment where anything foreign was suspect, which had destroyed many earlier local and state attempts at bilingual education. Furthermore, it recognized that the federal government was responsible for educating immigrants to the US and opened doors for bilingual education projects on local, state, and federal levels.
The BEA also became an important part of the "polemic between assimilation and multiculturalism" and the role that language education in our society. Because the BEA in its original form promoted celebrating linguistic and cultural differences and diversity in our country, it in many ways challenged assimilationist theories and the "melting pot" concept of the US. And yet, in its final form when passed, it did not mention the important link between language and culture, leaving the language vague.
The BEA additionally opened up a larger need for teachers who could teach not only language, but other content within a language besides English. This placed a strain on the teaching pool available in 1968 and even today there is a shortage of teachers for these highly specialized positions. Culturally, it was argued in this time period that by teaching in a certain language it also taught specific values instead of just a way of communication.
Implementation and Funding
When Senator Yarborough introduced the bill to the Senate in 1967, he envisioned it as a way of addressing the "'poor performance in school and high dropout rates...and great psychological harm' caused by 'English-only policies, no Spanish-speaking rules, and cultural degradation'" that was evident in many schools at the time.
Although the passage of the act was a bipartisan effort on behalf of Republicans and Democrats, it underwent significant changes between 1967 and 1968. Many of these changes were in the wording and framing of the act, which ultimately did not recognize the importance of biculturalism or the benefit of bilingualism or even the link between language and culture. Rather, it framed LESA students as a "problem" that needed to be fixed. In addition, unlike what Yarborough had originally conceived, it provided no funding for permanent programs regarding LESA students, as many people feared promoting a sense of entitlement in students and families benefitting from the act.
In terms of funding, the BEA provided school districts with federal funds, in the form of competitive grants, to establish innovative educational programs for students with limited English speaking ability. The grants that the act provided were given directly to school districts and were to be used to buy resources for educational programs, to train teachers and teachers' aides, to develop and distribute materials and to create meaningful parental involvement projects. Although the act did not require the use of bilingual instruction or the use of a student's native language, its aim was to encourage innovative programs designed to teach students English. The act also gave school districts the opportunity to provide bilingual education programs without violating segregation laws, but at this time, participation was voluntary. Program effectiveness was evaluated at the end of every year and successful programs were eligible to receive federal funding for up to five years.
Because the BEA funding was provided in the form of grants, most of the financial clout lay with local and state education agencies (LEAs and SEAs). However, the federal government limited the reach of these funds in a few significant ways. To begin with, from a simple framing standpoint, the original 1968 BEA did not include any mention of instruction in or maintenance of a student's native language, limiting the potential impact of the act.
From a financial perspective, the BEA was also limited. The only programs eligible for receiving funding were programs for children between the ages of 3 and 8. Because it was meant to redress the dropout issue, the act with this caveat on funding ultimately viewed high school LESA students somewhat of a lost cause. In addition, the act did not fund any permanent programs for educating LESA students, but only funding exploratory programs. As a result, it did not seek to truly address the burgeoning issue of how to educate students who were not English dominant. Lastly, the funds were originally reserved for communities whose average income was below the poverty line stated in the ESEA ($3,000 in 1968). This limitation on funding had the unfortunate side effect of framing the act as a somewhat of a handout to poor, Latino communities.
Due to many of these limitations and the vague wording of much of the BEA, funding was limited in the first three years to a meager $85 million. By 1972, "only 100,391 students nationally, out of approximately 5,000,000 in need were enrolled in a Title VII-funded program."
The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was not specific and participation by school districts was voluntary. As a result, Civil rights activists argued that the rights of minority-language students were being violated under this act. In 1974, there amendments were made to the original act in an attempt to clarify the intent and design of programs designated for the education of LESA students. There were two significant events that impacted these changes: the Lau V. Nichols case and the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974.
Lau v. Nichols
Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 , was a civil rights case that was brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, California who had limited English proficiency...
was a class-action suit brought against the San Francisco School District and alleged that due to their inability to speak English, there were 1,800 Chinese students who were being denied an equal education. In 1974, the Supreme Court overruled the initial ruling of the lower courts and determined that the same resources, teachers and curriculum did not imply that the education was equal for students who had a limited command of the English language. In the same year as the Supreme Court's ruling, the Equal Education Opportunity Act was passed. By citing instructional programs as the means through which language barriers were to be broken, it effectively extended the Lau ruling to all students and school districts. Furthermore, school districts were required to have special programs for LESA (Limited English Speaking Ability) students regardless of federal or state funding.
The amendments in 1974 served to do the following:
- define "Bilingual Education Program" as one that provided instruction in English and in the native language of the student to allow the student to progress effectively through the educational system
- define the program's goal to prepare LESA students to participate effectively in the regular classroom as quickly as possible while simultaneously maintaining the native language and culture of the student
- create regional support centers of consultants and trainers to provide support to school systems
- stipulate capacity-building efforts by providing funds to school districts' efforts to expand curricula, staff and research for bilingual programs
Funding increased from $7.5 million in 1968 to $68 million and as a result, programs were able to impact 368,000 students.
In 1978, further amendments were made to extend the Act and broaden the definition of eligible students. Specifically, these amendments served to do the following:
- emphasize the strictly transitional nature of native language instruction
- expand eligibility to students who are limited English proficient (LEP)
- permit enrollment of English-speaking students in bilingual programs
Funding increased from $68 million in 1974 to $135 million which was enough to provide funding for 565 school districts as well as secondary programs including service centers, graduate school fellowships and training for undergraduate students interested in becoming bilingual educators.
In 1984, the Bilingual Education Act was further modified. The amendments enacted during this time served to do the following:
- increase the flexibility in the implementation of programs for LEP students by providing school districts with more autonomy and independence in deciding how these students should be taught
- allow school districts to apply for funding for different, innovative programs that best met the needs of their students
Funding for these amendments was $139.4 million and there was a heavy emphasis placed on districts using the funding to build enough capacity to eventually be able to support LEP programs without federal government funding.
The BEA was once again amended in 1988. The changes this year served to:
- increase funding to state education agencies
- expand funding for "special alternative" programs
- create fellowship programs for professional training
Total funding for the 1988 amendments was $159 million dollars, with regulations for how the money should be divided. Specifically, at least 60% should be spent developing programs and at least 25% of funds should be spent on training.
The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) reauthorization in 1994 maintained the same tenants as the original BEA, yet additionally introduced new grant categories, set up preference to programs promoting bilingualism, and took into account indigenous languages. Overall, the premise of this addition was to introduce a more systemic reform.
- Priority Given to Bilingualism Programs: Though the Bilingual Education Act legislation did not prescribe specific instructional practices, it did provide a guide to help language minority students. The 1994 reauthorization gave preference to grant applications that developed bilingual proficiency, which Local Education Agencies had the right to develop themselves based on the guidelines of the BEA.
- In the FY2000 691 Bilingual Education Instructional Service Grants were given out totaling just over $162 million. The largest grants in FY2000 were given to the state of California and New York at approximately $58 million and $22.5 million respectively.
- 1994 California Proposition 187 was introduced in order to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining state provided health care, social services and public education. This was voted on by the public and became a law in November 1994. Citizens challenged the constitutionality of this proposition and in March 1998 it was ruled unconstitutional and was taken away. Though the law did no last, it impacted students who were ELL throughout the mid to late 1990s.
Significant Court Decisions
- Meyer v. Nebraska
Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 , was a U.S. Supreme Court case that held that a 1919 Nebraska law restricting foreign-language education violated the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.-Context and legislation:...
was the first U.S. Supreme court case that addressed American education of foreign-languages. This case did away with a Nebraska law that prevented public and private schools from offering instruction in any language but English. '"The protection of the [U.S.] Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on the tongue," Supreme Court Justice James C. McReynolds wrote. The decision established the principle that parents have a constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children, including their education.'.
- Lau v. Nichols
Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 , was a civil rights case that was brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, California who had limited English proficiency...
was a case brought forward, in which Chinese-American students claimed that they were being denied their education due to limited English comprehension. The case did not create a specific remedy, yet in conjunction with the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation...
, ruled in favor of the students, thus expanding the rights of students with limited English proficiency.
- Serna v. Portales was a case that dictated when a "substantial group" of students with limited English proficiency was present, bilingual education was required.
- Aspira v. N.Y. Board of Education required testing for students in English and their native language in order to understand if they should receive additional services and bilingual education.
- Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado stated that students should receive instruction in their native language and English until proficiency in English is achieved.
- Flores v. Arizona stated that Arizona must do more to fund instruction for ELL students. The Arizona courts rejected tenants of the NCLB law that changed the services provided to ELL students. This case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Castaneda v. Pickard in 1981 created a basis for pedagogically addressing Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. It required that districts have a plan for addressing LEP students, that schools provide qualified staff to implement that plan, and that the district has developed an effective evaluation protocol for the program. Though this case did create a more structured plan pedagogically it did not require bilingual education programs to meet these same standards. "It required only that 'appropriate action to overcome language barriers' be taken through well implemented programs.".
The Bilingual Education Act and No Child Left Behind
No Child Left Behind, passed in 2002, had a significant impact on bilingual education and the Bilingual Education Act in the United States due to its emphasis on high-stakes testing. As a result of NCLB and its emphasis on testing, the Bilingual Education Act was renamed the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act.
The name change alone of BEA under NCLB is significant in that it signals a shift in the philosophical approach to bilingual education. Essentially, even though the act still leaves with state and local educators the ability to choose from instructional methods, "the statement of purpose and accountability requirements make clear that the primary objective is English acquisition."
Under NCLB, school success and failure is linked to performance on standardized tests. However, this measure subjects English Language Learners (ELLs) "to critical assessments without adequate preparation." The lack of preparation is due to the fact that NCLB caps funding for bilingual education programs at half of what it previously was and does not require that any bilingual education programs undergo periodic evaluation, a measure required by the Castenada v. Pickard
court case. And yet, despite this lack of preparation, ELLs performance on standardized tests can jeopardize a school's access to funding. In essence, "This turns the question of whether or not a school receives a failing label into a question of how many ELLs attend." Because the impact of NCLB on ELLs has significant implications on ELLs and their communities' access to education, NCLB is in conflict with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in that it denies "access to a federally funded program based on their skin color or race." The changes in the BEA under NCLB created a grant program that attempted to enhance English language acquisition. The ruling placed ELL students in a similar classroom environment as their peers for whom English is not a second language. The law did not require schools to provide bilingual programs and placed them against the rigorous content standards put in place by State Education Agencies. When ELLs were tested with the same state assessments or the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), it was shown that compared to their fluently English-speaking peers the ELL students displayed larger deficits in both reading and math. The 2007 NAEP test, showed increased deficits in both math and reading following a surge of the ELL population in the United States. By 2005 the number of English-learners throughout the US had risen to 57% to approximately 5.1 million students.
After NCLB was enacted it was shown that there were sufficient numbers of prospective teachers, yet there were insufficient numbers of these teachers entering certain fields. Among these specializations were science, math, foreign languages, special education and namely bilingual education. Several initiatives formed to specifically recruit teachers to these specialization fields and allowed for alternative certification paths. These teacher shortages continue to exist today and are seen to a greater extent in high-poverty districts.
Currently, the act along with NCLB says that the accommodations that it provides should be interpreted in concordance with federal civil rights laws. "As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, and federal civil rights officials, these provisions rely on terms like “affirmative steps” and “appropriate action” that give school districts the discretion to use a range of instructional approaches. As a result, under both Title VI and the EEOA, courts and federal enforcement agencies must decide on a case-by-case basis whether programs are in fact overcoming linguistic barriers to full participation." The policy still remains highly debated at both the state and federal level.
- Bilingual education
Bilingual education involves teaching academic content in two languages, in a native and secondary language with varying amounts of each language used in accordance with the program model.-Bilingual education program models:...
- Intercultural bilingual education
Intercultural bilingual education or bilingual intercultural education is an intercultural and bilingual model of education designed for contexts with two cultures and languages in contact, in the typical case a dominant and an underprivileged culture...
- Little School of the 400
The Little School of the 400 was created in 1957 to meet the educational needs of Spanish speaking children in Texas. The goal of the program was to teach 400 basic English words to help Spanish-speaking children to manage instruction given in English in the regular public educational system.LULAC...
- Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974
The Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 is a federal law of the United States of America. It prohibits discrimination against faculty, staff and students, including racial segregation of students, and requires school districts to take action to overcome barriers to students' equal...
- No Child Left Behind Act
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a United States Act of Congress concerning the education of children in public schools.NCLB was originally proposed by the administration of George W. Bush immediately after he took office...
- Cordasco, Francesco. "The Bilingual Education Act." The Phi Delta Kappan 51.2: 75. 1969.
- Hilner, Benjamin. "'Bad Policy and Bad Law'": The Shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act in Bilingual Educational Policy and its Frustration of the Equal Protection Clause." Educational Law Consortium Journal. (2005): 1-22.
- Moran, Rachel F. "Bilingual Education Act: Equal Education Opportunities: History, Politics, Theory, and Practice. JRank. JRank. n.d. 9 Oct 2011.
- Petrzela, Natalia M. "Before the Federal Bilingual Education Act: Legislation and Lived Experience in California." Peabody Journal of Education 85: 406-424. 2010.
- Wiese, Anne-Marie, and Eugene Garcia. "The Bilingual Education Act: Language Minority Students and US Federal Educational Policy." International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 4.4. 2010.