The Court then obliged schools to take steps to overcome language barriers in order to give all children equal access to the curriculum. This was endorsed by the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974.
None of the implemented laws require a specific methodology for instruction in schools, but civil rights laws do require that all children receive equal opportunities. Specifically, this requirement is enforced by the further requirements of theoretically sound research-based programs, resources to implement the programs, and standards and procedures for evaluating the program as well as changes to ensure effectiveness. Current initiatives to eliminate bilingual education are thus unconstitutional by all definitions of the American ideal and civil rights.
Legislation Regarding Bilingual Education
As seen above, several legislative acts have been implemented in order to ensure the constitutional administration of bilingual education in the United States. The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 for example was the first major reformative Act of bilingual education since the World Wars. This Act promoted equal access to the curriculum, thereby fostering achievement among both students and the teachers who administered the program. The Act expired in 2002.
The reason for the elimination was the implementation of a larger piece of legislation, known as the No Child Left Behind measure, aimed at widespread school reform and implemented by the Bush administration.
According to this initiative, federal funds are provided to support English language learners (ELLs). The focus is thus entirely on teaching and learning English only. This is encouraged by "accountability" provisions, including the judgment of schools according to the number of ELLs reclassified as fluent English speakers. Furthermore the failure to show progress in English learning will be punished. This appears to be a return to the earlier and paranoid legislation regarding language instruction during the World War I years. It also appears to once again be unconstitutional; schools are practically being forced to abandon all attention to native language instruction in favor of English-only instruction.
In contrast to this, the 1994 Bilingual Education Act had as one of its goals developing English and native-language skills. Instead the English Language Acquisition Act focuses only on English.
In terms of funding, subsidies are no longer federally administered via competitive grants. Instead, formula grants are distributed by each state. These grants are based on the enrollments of ELLs and immigrant students. This gives state education greater control over funding and the decisions that go with it. Each state could therefore, should it choose to do so, impose their own set of pedagogical methodologies.
Funding for critical factors such as teacher training and research programs is also severely restricted by the Bush administration. All funding is thus aimed at limiting elementary education to English language only instruction. It is interesting to note that these political changes are occurring at a time when language minorities are becoming increasingly prominent on the political scene. There is thus no more reason to fear bilingualism or those representing foreign languages. Nonetheless, it appears that the political power of the Bush administration is simply too strong to be overthrown by the many unhappy educators and parents of language minority children. Thus, while bilingual education laws changed for the better after World War II, it appears that legislation has once again become unconstitutional, focusing only on one privileged sector of American society.
This proposition is a further extension of the ideals voiced by the No Child Left Behind initiative. By approving the initiative in 1998, California has perpetuated the nation-wide attempt to eradicate bilingualism from school curricula.
There seems to be an extreme dichotomy between two sides of American culture: those who are saturated with anti-immigrant sentiment, and others who feel that the American ideal of equality is still important regardless of any political upheavals or wars. It appears however that the former group is in the majority, as the vote for Proposition 227 appears overwhelmingly more than the votes against it.
The effect of the act on education is disastrous. It has been seen above that submersion is generally ineffective in school instruction. Language minority children find it very difficult to cope with being instructed in a language medium that they are not wholly familiar with. Legislation such as Proposition 227 will thus have a disastrous effect not only on these children personally, but also on education as a whole. History has taught that dropout rates will rise dramatically, while the number of qualified, university-ready students produced by such schools will fall. Eventually both manpower and the economy in the country will be affected negatively.
The effect of these scores on Californian children is both emotional and practical. Practically, the above-mentioned problems of difficulty in comprehension and the rise in dropout rate are prominent concerns. Emotionally, it has been mentioned above that minority language children run the risk of feeling isolated and alienated because of their limited proficiency in English. Not dealing with this limited proficiency will simply exacerbate the problem. Proposition 227 appears to ignore the problem in favor of its own skewed ideals. Of course civil rights advocates are raising objections to the Proposition, citing legal and constitutional objections. These persons are attempting to overthrow the effects of the Proposition in order to preserve the future of bilingual education. One of the ways in which this may occur is through using the waivers offered for children with special needs. Advocates of bilingual education are attempting to list limited English proficiency as a special need.
Teachers are also resisting the Proposition. Rather than restrict their instruction only to English, more than 1500 teachers in Los Angeles have signed a pledge to commit civil disobedience and/or go to jail for the privilege of preserving bilingual programs that have been proved to work. It has been mentioned above that history has proved the limited success of English-only programs and legislation as opposed to bilingual programs in schools. High school students have also joined the initiative against the Proposition by staging walkouts in communities, and certainly parents will similarly revolt if English-only education appears to be inadequate.
Those in power however are proving to be problematic. Charles Legge for example is a federal judge assigned to hear the case against the Proposition. Extremely conservative as well as a Reagan appointee, the judge has refused quickly to delay the effective date of 227. It appears thus that he is unlikely to be sympathetic towards the case of the language minority parents.
Several districts in the California are proving unwilling to implement the Proposition. All these opponents are however discouraged by those with power to actually overturn the vote. The future for bilingual education in California thus appears somewhat dark.
It is interesting to note that not only history, but also recent research and practice have shown the effectiveness of bilingual education in the United States. The problem is that the rationale of bilingual education is pedagogical, whereas it is not necessarily political. The problem is that ideological attacks on bilingual education have not sufficiently been countered by its supporters. Thus bilingual education lacks any strength in terms of political support. This, according to some, is also the reason for the success of legislation such as 227.
The effect of the Proposition is thus many-fold. On the one hand it is delivering a severe blow to the future of bilingual education and indeed bilingualism as a whole in California. Furthermore education is projected to become problematic for limited English proficiency students. On the other hand, it is also beneficial that the Proposition was approved so easily. This made supporters of bilingualism aware of the political shortcomings of the support system for teachers and other proponents of bilingualism. This is a problem that can be remedied.
It is difficult to say what the true practical implications of 227 will be in the long-term. Nonetheless, the Proposition is unconstitutional by all definitions, as is much of the educational initiatives that have recently seen the light. Forcing minority language children into submersion programs simply for a political ideal is an abuse of civil rights.
History should thus serve as a learning tool for all parties involved. Politicians should learn that successful schooling programs are beneficial in the political arena as well. Breeding racist and anti-immigrant attitudes serves only to undermining the initial American ideal of equality and freedom. Teachers, learners and supporters of bilingualism should learn from political activists during the 1960's and later. It is possible to overturn unfair legislation for the benefit of all involved.
Education Week. "Three Types of Effective Bilingual Education." Region VII Comprehensive Center, 2004. http://www.helpforschools.com/ELLKBase/tips/ThreeTypesofBilingualEducation.shtml
Genesee, Frend. "Bilingual Education Programs: A Cross-National Perspective." In Journal of Social Issues, Winter 1999. Database: Findarticles.com
Gillingham, Ashley H. " Second Language Learners in the Northfield Elementary Schools." St. Olaf College,…