A Brief History of Bilingual Education in the United States

PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                                      SPRING 2009 | PAGE 61


A Brief History of Bilingual Education in the United States
By David Nieto, University of Massachusetts Boston

INTRODUCTION                                     a living nation of immigrants even       migrants integrated into the American
    In the history of the United States          today. (p. 333)                         mainstream without any special type
of America, multilingual communities                                                      of instruction or curriculum “aide.”
have subsisted side by side. Among the            In fact, Fix and Passel (2003) esti-    Nevertheless, this process of Anglici-
many languages spoken throughout the          mate that during the 1990s the number       sation cannot exactly be characterized
country, we could mention first all the       of immigrants that entered the U.S.         as a voluntary assimilation. As Urban
original Native American languages            exceeded that of any previous decade        & Wagoner (2003) have pointed out,
and then a multitude of languages that        in the U.S. history. They also indicate     “assimilation […] was neither com-
immigrants from all over the world            that, together with the immigrant pop-      pletely painless nor evenly or eagerly
have brought into the country. To-            ulation overall, the English Language       embraced by all groups” (p. 388).
gether with English, Italian, German,         Learner (ELL) population increased by           The actual situation was much more
Dutch, Polish, French, Spanish, Chi-          52 percent in the 1990s. In addition,       complex. Various cultural groups have
nese, and Japanese are just some of the       they projected that the in-flow of im-      embraced and resisted the assimila-
more than two hundred languages that          migrants would be sustained, if not in-     tion process in numerous ways and at
have been spoken in the United States.        creased, during the 2000s.The diverse       different times. Wiley (1999) claimed
As James Crawford (2004) has noted,           demographic reality of the U.S. is still    that, whereas languages that came
“Language diversity in North America          changing drastically. Early 20th century    from Europe were generally more ac-
has ebbed and flowed, reaching its low-       European migration was superseded           cepted and tolerated, those of Native
est level in the mid-20th century. But it     by the number of immigrants that ar-        Americans, Africans, and the Mexican
has existed in every era, since long be-      rived from Latin America and Asia in        territories were intentionally depleted
fore the United States constituted itself     the second half of the century. By the      by being assigned an inferior status.
as a nation” (p. 59).                        year 2000, more than a quarter of the           Regardless of whether the process
    Such a phenomenon is partly a re-         population was composed of ethnic           was voluntary or whether it was forced,
sult of the fact that immigration is one      minorities. Latinos have already sur-       it is significant to identify at least two
of the authenticities in the history of the   passed African Americans as the na-         of its most pronounced effects. One ef-
United States of America. Immigration         tion’s largest minority, and they are ex-   fect is the emergence of feelings of frus-
is one of the most prominent features         pected to make up to 25 percent of the      tration that many immigrant students
of the country, together with the prom-       total population of the country by 2050     experience when forced to abandon
ise of liberty and a better life, which led   (Suarez-Orozco & Páez, 2002).              their language, which also puts them
this nation to be labelled a nation of            However, despite the vast richness      at odds with their families and com-
immigrants. As Sonia Nieto (1992) as-         of such a linguistic and cultural land-     munities, who may have less direct ac-
serts, contrary to many contemporary          scape, quick assimilation into English      cess to the mainstream (Brisk, 1998;
arguments about immigration,                 is another prevailing characteristic of     Urban & Wagoner, 2003). The impo-
                                              U.S. history. The pattern of linguis-       sition of linguistic behaviors leaves an
   Immigration is not a phenomenon            tic assimilation, or ‘language shift’,      imprint of ambivalence toward one’s
   of the past. In fact, the experience       has been documented to last no more         own native language, the value of one’s
   of immigration is still fresh in the       than three generations. Consequently,       cultural background, and, ultimate-
   minds of a great many people in            grandchildren of today’s new immi-          ly, the value of oneself (Bartolomé,
   our country. It is an experience that      grants will hardly speak the language       2008; McCarty, 2000; Nieto, 1992;).
   begins anew every day that planes          of their ancestors (Schmidt, 2000). The         The second effect of such a linguis-
   land, ships reach our shores, and          uniqueness of such an extended process      tic approach in education may have a
   people make their way on foot to           of language shift led the linguist Einar    direct connection with the significantly
   borders. Many of the students in           Haugen (1972) to define it as ‘Babel in     lower grades and higher dropout rates
   our schools, even if they themselves       Reverse.’                                  that immigrant students have persist-
   are not immigrants, have parents or            This process of rapid linguistic as-    ently attained in the history of Ameri-
   grandparents who were. The United          similation into English may have been       can Education (Crawford, 2004). This
   States is thus not only a nation of        the origin of one of the assumptions        achievement gap has usually been at-
   immigrants as seen in some ideal-          about language and education in the         tributed to the social class and the rural
   ized and romanticized past; it is also     United States; namely, that former im-      background of many immigrants, but
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other factors have been left unexplored.    the negative discourse against them. In         However, it was not until the ap-
Sonia Nieto (1992) observed that,          such a theory, it becomes indispensable     proval of the Nationality Act in Texas
                                            to include elements of race and culture     in 1906 that English was officially
   Curriculum and pedagogy, rather          and an explicit theory of language.        designated as the only language to be
   than using the lived experiences             Examining the research literature, I    taught in schools. In addition, the Na-
   of students as a foundation, have        use the relatively recent case of Massa-    tionality Act required all immigrants
   been based on what can be de-            chusetts’ Question 2 to explore the rele-   to speak English in order to be eligible
   scribed as an alien and imposed          vant role of ideology and socio-political   to start their process of naturalization
   reality. The rich experiences of         expectations at the time of probing the     (Perez, 2004). This justification of the
   millions of our students, their par-     continuation of bilingual education. In     imposition of English was based on
   ents, grandparents, and neighbours       2002, the mid-term elections in Mas-        the explicit connection between Eng-
   have been kept strangely quiet. Al-      sachusetts included a ballot question,      lish and U.S. national identity and on
   though we almost all have an im-         Question 2, to decide about the future      the empirically-determined correla-
   migrant past, very few of us know        of the bilingual programs offered in the    tion between bilingualism and inferior
   or even acknowledge it. (p. 334)         state up to that moment. The case of        intelligence (Schmid, 2001). In 1917,
                                            Massachusetts clearly exemplifies the       Congress passed the Burnett Act, which
    As a consequence, the linguistic and    role of ideology and politics in shaping    required all new immigrants to pass a
cultural realities of a large number of     education policy in general and bilin-      literacy test and prohibited immigra-
students have been purposefully not         gual education in particular.              tion from Asia, except for Japan and
only forgotten, but also silenced in                                                    the Philippines. Such a measure reveals
schools’ curricula. In this sense, and      LANGUAGE AND EDUCATION IN THE               the closeness between racial prejudice
regardless of the number and the diver-                                                 and linguistic restrictions. At this time,
sity of the individuals and groups that     UNITED STATES                               the previous tolerance toward German
have entered the country, the prime             Prior to the twentieth century, the     speakers turned to hostility (Schmid,
institutional attitude that has been of-    U.S. government had actively imposed        2001; Wiley, 2002). Not much later,
ficially adopted toward languages other     the use of English among Native Amer-       President Theodore Roosevelt (1926)
than English in the United States can       icans and the inhabitants of the incor-     emphasized the connection between
be labelled as “indifferent” (Crawford,     porated territories of the Southwest. By    English acquisition and loyalty to the
1989). The notion that presided over        the 1880s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs     U.S. with the following statement, 
such a political position was that most     implemented a policy of forced Anglici-
people would understand the conve-          sation for Native Americans sending In-        We have room for but one language
nience and advantages of learning Eng-      dian children to boarding schools. Such        in this country and that is the Eng-
lish and thus would tend to abandon         policies did not succeed in eradicating        lish language, for we intend to see
their mother tongues without coercion.      the children’s native languages, but it        that the crucible turns our people
Still, the U.S. government has had a        did instil in them a sense of shame that       out as Americans, of American na-
fundamental role in promoting the con-      guaranteed the exclusive use of English        tionality, and not as dwellers in a
formity into Anglicisation standards.       for future generations (Crawford, 1998;        polyglot boarding house. ([1919]
At times, it has been more open and ac-     McCarty, 2002).                               1926: XXIV, 554 as cited in Craw-
cepting of the multilingual reality and         In order to ensure linguistic and          ford, 2001)
at others blatantly repressive and intol-   cultural control of the new territories
erant (Crawford, 1989; Schmid, 2001).       on the Southwest, the U.S. govern-              The hostile climate against languag-
    Within the context of language leg-     ment adopted two different strategies.      es other than English would result in
islation in education in the U.S. dur-      The first one entailed delimiting state     the drastic reduction of any type of bi-
ing the 20th century, the present article   borders to favor an English-speaking        lingual instruction in the U.S. Accord-
attempts to assess the importance of        majority by splitting Spanish-speaking      ing to Crawford (1998), the restriction
ideological considerations and political    communities. The second strategy in-        of language use had two intentions. The
momentum over empirical data at the         volved the deferral of the recognition of   first purpose was to deprive minorities
time of choosing and implementing bi-       statehood until English-speaking set-       of their individual rights in order to
lingual education programs. Following       tlers had sufficiently populated the new    frustrate worker solidarity. The second
Cummins’ (1999) assertion that experi-      territories. For this reason, California    one was to institute a perception of the
mental and quasi-experimental stud-         was accepted as a state in 1850, Nevada     United States as an exclusively Anglo
ies, as necessary as they are to prove      in 1864, Colorado in 1876, and Utah in      community. Such an ideological strat-
the validity of bilingual education, are    1896. In the case of New Mexico, which,     egy was to remain quite constant until
not enough to evaluate the quality of       at the time of its incorporation in 1848,   the 1960s.
bilingual programs, I believe that it is    included Arizona, it took the Federal           However, the Supreme Court re-
essential to build a coherent theoretical   government 60 years to grant full state-    fused to back those restrictive practices.
framework in order to assess the po-        hood to the two states contained in this    The first legal case that had a noticeable
tential of such programs and neutralize     territory (MacGregor-Mendoza, 1998).        impact on education policy was Meyer
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                              SPRING 2009 | PAGE 63

vs. Nebraska, 262 US 390 in 1923.           in 1964, which outlawed discrimina-          populations (Crawford, 1989, 2004;
Meyer, a German parochial instructor,       tion. At the same time, Title VI, the part   DelValle, 2003; Ricento, 1998). 
was accused of violating a Nebraska         of the Civil Rights Act that pertained to        Title VII represented the first bi-
law enacted in 1919 that prohibited in-     education, became the paramount ini-         lingual and bicultural education pro-
struction in any foreign language. The      tiative for bilingual education in the       gram that was approved at the federal
Supreme Court ruled that the law vio-       United States. Title VI allowed funds to     level. It offered supplemental funding
lated the Fourteenth Amendment of the       be withheld from school districts that       for those districts that developed spe-
U.S. Constitution by limiting individual    maintained segregation or did not pro-       cial programs to meet the needs of
inalienable rights (Tollefson, 2002a).     mote integration (DelValle, 2003; Ur-        students whose English was not profi-
    In 1927, in the case Farrington v.      ban & Wagoner, 2003).                       cient. It granted funding for planning
Tokushige 273 U.S. 284, the Supreme             The Civil Rights movement helped         and developing bilingual programs and
Court invalidated the law that banned       to intensify the actions of the League       for defraying the costs of training and
foreign language instruction without a      of United Latin American Citizens (LU-       operating those programs (Schmid,
permit in schools in Hawaii. The Su-        LAC). This organization was created in       2001). The main idea was to provide
preme Court ruled that prohibiting          the 1920s with the goal of fighting the      part of the instruction in the student’s
schools to teach in a language other        discriminatory treatment of Mexican          native language in order to ease her/
than English violates constitutional        Americans in public schools and to pro-      his transition into the mainstream.
rights protected under the Fifth Amend-     mote a better education for the Mexican      Such approach is known as “transi-
ment (Cordasco, 1976; DelValle, 2003;       American community. Other groups             tional bilingual education” (Cordasco,
Tollefson, 2002a).                         in defense of ethno-linguistic minori-       1976; DelValle, 2003). As the first fed-
    Following these precedents, courts      ties were also established, such as the      eral law in the United States that dealt
kept on affirming the right of citizens     Mexican American Legal Defense Fund          with issues of language, the passage of
to learn and teach their language of        (MALDEF), which was formed under             the Bilingual Educational Act provoked
preference. In 1949, Mo Hock Ke Lok         the advice of the National Association       people to express language attitudes
Po v. Stainback, the judge sentenced        for the Advancement of Colored Peo-          and beliefs that had little to do with in-
that parents have the right to have         ple (NAACP). Along with the struggle         struction and a lot to do with ideologi-
their children taught in the language       for desegregation of Mexican American        cal positions (Crawford, 2004).
they choose (Cordasco, 1976; DelValle,      students, these organizations fought             In 1974, the Bilingual Education Act
2003).                                     to gain recognition for the fundamen-        was amended to explicitly define bi-
    In 1954, in the case Brown vs. the      tal language and cultural differences        lingual educational programs, identify
Board of Education of Topeka, the Su-       between their communities and the            goals, and stipulate the requirement of
preme Court advanced a major shift in       ‘Anglo-White’ mainstream. The lack           feedback and progress reports from the
educational policy by declaring that en-    of any reference to multiculturalism in      programs. At the time, the lack of a sys-
forced segregation of schools inherent-     an all-English curriculum fostered low       tematic means of determining success
ly promotes inequality and ordering its     academic achievement in such commu-          of such programs was considered one
immediate desegregation. In a second        nities (Urban & Wagoner, 2003).             of the failures of bilingual education
part of this sentence in 1955, the Su-          In the 1960s, ethno-linguistic mi-       (Bangura & Muo, 2001). In addition,
preme Court added the recommenda-           norities experienced a pronounced in-        the terms of eligibility were broadened
tion “with deliberate speed” (as cited in   crease in numbers. The lack of access        by eliminating the low-income require-
Urban & Wagoner, 2003). In its ruling,      to a meaningful education hindered           ment that was included in the Act of
the Supreme Court acknowledged for          the possibility of full participation in     1968 (Crawford, 1989).
the first time the unequal, disadvanta-     society for these non-English speaking           The same year, the Supreme Court
geous, and unfair educational situation     students and blocked their upward mo-        ruled in Lau v. Nichols, 414 US 563,
of people of color in the U.S. and pre-     bility. Both facts motivated Congress        565. This ruling reinforced the man-
scribed action to correct the situation     to pass the Bilingual Education Act of       date that it was the school district’s
(Urban & Wagoner, 2003).                   1968, also known as Title VII of the         responsibility to provide the neces-
    The Brown vs. the Board of Educa-       Elementary and Secondary Education           sary programs and accommodations
tion sentence motivated the African         Act (Crawford, 1989).                       to children who did not speak English.
American community in their struggle            The Bilingual Education Act has          In this case, a group of approximately
for civil rights. They launched an in-      been considered the most important           eight hundred Chinese students in San
tense campaign of political activism        law in recognizing linguistic minor-         Francisco raised a case of discrimina-
that eventually provoked other similar      ity rights in the history of the United      tion against their school district. These
rulings against segregation in public       States. The law did not force school dis-    non-English speaking students argued
schools, such as the Little Rock inte-      tricts to offer bilingual programs, but it   that they were left in a “sink or swim”
gration decision in 1957 (Urban & Wag-      encouraged them to experiment with           situation by being taught exclusively
oner, 2003). The social movement that       new pedagogical approaches by fund-          in English, a language they could not
started at this point would culminate       ing programs that targeted principally       yet fully understand (Schmid, 2001;
with the passage of the Civil Rights Act    low-income and non-English speaking          Wiley, 2002). The Supreme Court rea-
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                               SPRING 2009 | PAGE 64

soned that ���������������������������
             the responsibility to over-      luctant to implement bilingual educa-       included “two-way” bilingual programs.
come language barriers that impede            tion programs (DelValle, 2003).            These programs continue to serve
full integration of students falls on the         In the eighties, the Reagan admin-      mainstream and language-minority
school boards and not on the parents or       istration led a major campaign against      students. Both groups of students ben-
children; otherwise, there is no real ac-     bilingual education and in favour of a      efit from the opportunity to acquire and
cess for these students to a meaningful       “back to basics” education. The Rea-        fully develop their skills in a second lan-
education (Cordasco 1976, Crawford,           gan administration defined the United       guage (Crawford, 2004). Shortly after
2004). The importance of this decision        States as a “nation at risk of balkaniza-   the passage of the Improving America’s
is clear, considering that, in a related      tion” and blamed non-English speaking       Schools Act, in the fall of 1994, Propo-
previous sentence in 1973, the Ninth          communities for such a risk (Crawford,      sition 187 was passed in California, a
Circuit Court of Appeals had argued,         1989). As early as 1981, the senator S.I.   policy that made it illegal for children
                                              Hayakawa introduced a constitutional        of undocumented immigrants to attend
   The discrimination suffered by             amendment aimed at adopting English         public schools. The proposition was de-
   these children is not the result of        as the official language of the United      clared unconstitutional, but it fuelled
   laws passed by the state of Califor-       States. Later, in 1983, he founded U.S.     the drive to pass new initiatives toward
   nia, presently or historically, but is     English, a non-profit organization that     limiting the rights of and benefits pre-
   the result of deficiencies created by      promotes English as the official lan-       viously accorded to immigrants (Craw-
   the children themselves in failing         guage of the United States and discred-     ford, 2004).
   to know and learn the English lan-         its bilingual education (Padilla et al.,        In 1996, the House of Representa-
   guage. (as cited in Wiley, 2002, p.        1991).                                     tives approved the designation of Eng-
   55)                                           The principal reasons to criticize      lish as the nation’s official language and
                                              bilingual education were derived from       banned the use of other languages by
Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court            Keith Baker and Adriane de Kanter’s         government agencies and officials. The
did not base the decision on the Consti-      (1981, 1983) evaluation of bilingual        bill did not pass in the Senate. In 1998,
tution, but on Title VI, which prohibits      education programs. By compiling and        Proposition 227, promoted by multi-
discrimination on the grounds of race,        analyzing the results of previous stud-     millionaire Ron Unz, was adopted in
color, or national origin. As a result,       ies, they concluded that bilingual edu-     California. Proposition 227 ended the
the Supreme Court did not address the         cation was not an effective means to        bilingual education programs through-
question of whether there is a consti-        meet the needs of language minority         out the state of California, which were
tutional right to educational assistance      students. However, their evaluations        substituted with English-only instruc-
for language minority students, and it        were rapidly contested by critics who       tion models (Crawford, 2004). Similar
implied that there is no constitutional       pointed out that the authors had left out   propositions that eliminated instruc-
right to bilingual education (DelValle,       significant variables in their analysis,    tion in any language other than English
2003; Schmid, 2001).                         and, if these variable had been includ-     were approved in the year 2000 in Ari-
    The Lau ruling did not mentioned          ed, “the results from the meta-analysis     zona and in 2001 in Colorado (Craw-
any specific remedies; it just mentioned      [would have] consistently yielded small     ford, 2001, 2004). 
‘appropriate action.’ In 1975, the Office     to moderate differences supporting bi-          This wave of anti-bilingualism
of Civil Rights released a series of guide-   lingual education” (Padilla et al., 1991,   policies reached its peak with George
lines by which school districts should        p. 126).                                   W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act
abide in order to comply with the Su-             In 1994, under the Improving Amer-      (NCLB) in 2002. The law, which was a
preme Court Lau decision. These guide-        ica’s Schools Act, the Bilingual Edu-       reauthorization of the Elementary and
lines were named the ‘Lau Remedies’           cation Act was reauthorized. The law        Secondary Education Act (ESEA), did
and essentially promoted transitional         made explicit its main purpose: “devel-     not officially ban bilingual programs,
bilingual education programs. The Lau         oping bilingual skills and multicultural    but it imposed a high-stakes testing
remedies were to be withdrawn in 1981         understanding” (as cited in Crawford,       system that promoted the adoption and
(Crawford, 1989; DelValle, 2003). That        2004, p. 19). For the first time, bilin-    implementation of English-only in-
year, in the case Castaneda v. Pickard        gual education was not only considered      struction. Furthermore, all references
the Fifth Circuit established three re-       a resource to help immigrants become        to bilingual education in the previous
quirements to define what appropriate         fluent English speakers, but also a po-     ESEA were eliminated in the new leg-
action meant when implementing pro-           tential asset to improve the country’s      islation (Crawford, 2004).
grams to help language minority stu-          prospects, a way to “develop our Na-            As all of the above mentioned policy
dents overcome language barriers: The         tion’s national languages resources,        changes toward the restriction or exclu-
program (1) must be based on sound            thus promoting our Nation’s competi-        sion of bilingual education were passed,
educational theory, (2) must have suffi-      tiveness in the global economy” (Craw-      evidence about the beneficial effects of
cient resources and personnel, and (3)        ford, 2004, p. 20).                        bilingual education increased (Craw-
must prove to be effective in teaching            The result of this extension was the    ford, 2004; Krashen, 1996). Greene
students English. These requirements          promotion and establishment of devel-       (1998) reported in a meta-analysis
offered ample leeway for districts re-        opmental bilingual education, which         summarizing the scholarly research on
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                                SPRING 2009 | PAGE 65

bilingual education that children with      gered feelings about the unity of the na-      THE CASE FOR MASSACHUSETTS:
limited English proficiency who are         tion, the endangered dominant ethnic
taught using at least some of their na-     identity, and the gradual decline of the       QUESTION 2
tive language perform significantly bet-    English language. Samuel Huntington                The struggle of the Latino commu-
ter on standardized tests than similar      (2004) and Patrick Buchanan (2006)             nity in Massachusetts “led to the first
children who are taught only in Eng-        equate ‘Anglo-Protestant culture’ to the       state-mandated, transitional bilingual-
lish. This conclusion was based on the      ‘American Creed,’ and identify multi-          education program in the United States
statistical combination of eleven stud-     culturalism and the retention of other         in 1969” (Uriarte & Chavez, 2000, p.1).
ies. These studies were selected for the    (Hispanic) cultural values, including          In the 1970s, Boston bore witness to
quality of their research design from a     language and bilingual education, as           one of the most bitter school desegre-
total of seventy-five studies reviewed.     a threat to the ‘American way of life.’        gation cases in the United States. The
They included standardized test score       Martinez (2007) claims that such a dis-        city school’s committee refused una-
results from 2,719 students in thirteen     course longs for a return to the days in       shamedly to comply with the federal
different states, 1,562 of whom were        which being White was a requisite in           court’s mandates to desegregate public
enrolled in bilingual programs. Further     order to be eligible for citizenship. He       schools. Eventually, the federal district
studies show that providing instruction     argues that the end of bilingual educa-        judge Arthur Garrity had to develop
in the students’ native languages does      tion is part of a global strategy to curtail   several plans and policies to override
not only facilitate English acquisition     immigration from Third World coun-             the refusal of desegregation of the Bos-
but also strengthens content knowledge      tries, especially Mexico.                     ton School Committee. The practices
attainment (Cummins, 2000; Krashen,             Certainly, the discourse against bi-       that were developed at that point in-
2004; Thomas & Collier, 1997).             lingual education transcends educa-            cluded extensive Bilingual Education
    Detractors of bilingual education       tional empirical research. Henry Gir-          programs (Urban & Wagoner, 2003). 
argue that the use of the native lan-       oux (2001) affirms that, in the United             Educational practices moved to-
guage delays the acquisition of Eng-        States, the discourse of monolingual-          ward the measurement of outcomes
lish and that it is more efficient to       ism attempts to portray minorities as a        early in Massachusetts. In 1993, the
place students in all-English programs      threat to the American way of life and         Educational Reform Act was approved.
where they may receive language sup-        as an excuse to attack multiculturalism,       It established the Massachusetts Com-
port (Baker, 1998). However, further        bilingual education, affirmative action,       prehensive Assessment System (MCAS)
studies have shown that it may take         welfare reform, or any other sign of di-       as the official and primary measure of
up to seven years to master academic        versity and ‘the Other.’ Furthermore,          students’ achievement. The adoption
English (Hakuta et al., 2000; Krashen,      Lilia Bartolomé (2008) argues, “the            of standardised tests as a reliable in-
2004). In any case, as Donaldo Macedo       practice of forbidding the use of non-         dicator of students’ progress was and
(2000) contends, if standardized test       English languages has constituted the          still is in question for many educators,
results and supposed low literacy skills    more prevalent contemporary language           especially with regards to those chil-
are used as the empirical evidence that     practice in the US,” (p. 378), explaining      dren who do not belong to the domi-
bilingual education does not work,          that language education itself is being        nant class, race, and culture (Uriarte &
such a line of reasoning could also be      used as an instrument of discourse and         Chavez, 2000).
applied to foreign language depart-         ideological power (Wiley, 2002).                  Bilingual education, although in-
ments in schools all over the country,          In summary, ideological positions          sufficiently funded, was widespread in
and, nevertheless, no one advocates for     about American identity and White              Massachusetts. In the mid-term elec-
their elimination.                         supremacy result in the association of         tions of 2002, among the referendum
    Bilingual education has also been       bilingualism with inferior intelligence        questions, a question about the suit-
blamed for retarding the process of as-     and a lack of patriotism in the United         ability of bilingual education programs
similation for immigrants. However,         States. The word ‘bilingual,’ beyond           in the State was included on the bal-
this claim cannot be based on any em-       denoting ‘speaker of two languages,’           lot. The English Language Education
pirical data. In the first place, such a    has come to symbolize an immigrant,            in Public Schools, Question 2, was an
vision overlooks the fact that linguistic   typically a Latino or Latina, who does         initiative of Ron Unz and the U.S. Eng-
minorities in the U.S. are not only com-    not—and refuses to—speak English               lish group under the slogan “English
prised of recently arrived immigrants       correctly and, therefore, who cannot           for the Children” (Berriz, 2005). The
and their children but also of enslaved     be considered ‘American’ (Spolsky,             rationale for such an initiative was
and indigenous peoples, including           2004; Tollefson, 2002b). All these ide-        based on the assertion that “the public
inhabitants of those territories that       ological forces and assumptions played         schools of Massachusetts have done an
have been annexed to the U.S. (Wiley,       an important role at the time voters           inadequate job of educating many im-
2002). The most probable rationale of       came to the polls to decide whether            migrant children, requiring that they
such an argument is to be found in the      or not to continue implementing bi-            be placed in native language programs
fact that the origin of most immigrants     lingual programs in Massachusetts,             whose failure over the past decades is
has shifted from Europe to Asia and         as is examined in the next section.            demonstrated by the low English lit-
Latin-America. Such a shift has trig-                                                      eracy levels of those children,” and the
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                               SPRING 2009 | PAGE 66

assumption that “immigrant children          be excluded from high-stakes tests           second language (Hakuta et al., 2000;
can easily acquire full fluency and liter-   in English until they have obtained          Pray & MacSwan, 2002; Genesse et al.,
acy in a new language, such as English,      enough proficiency in English, and,          2005). In addition to linguistic skills,
if they are taught that language in the      equally, ELLs should not be reclassified     it is necessary to pay attention to the
classroom as soon as they enter school”      into mainstream classrooms until they        long-term academic evolution of ELLs.
(Secretary of the Commonwealth of            have fully developed sufficient English      Once students enter mainstream class-
Massachusetts, 2002).                       skills as to assure their future academic    es, the previously acquired academic
    Massachusetts residents voted            prospects (Wright & Choi, 2006).            knowledge and skills are vital. Non-
overwhelmingly in favor of Question 2.           In the case of Arizona, where similar    native students will not only need Eng-
The proposition replaced the law that        legislation had been passed in 2000,         lish proficiency to succeed in school,
provided transitional bilingual educa-       Wright (2005) noted, the state had de-       but also sufficient content instruction
tion in the State “with a law requiring      veloped certain procedures so that ELL       to excel in their academic lives (Ber-
that, with limited exceptions, all public    scores did not make up part of the ac-       riz, 2005). In this regard, a number
school children must be taught English       countability formula in schools. These       of longitudinal studies have estimated
by being taught all subjects in English      procedures, which might have been            that those students placed in bilingual
and being placed in English language         presented as some type of advantage          programs perform better in content
classrooms” (Secretary of the Com-           or accommodation for ELL students, in        instruction classes than those placed
monwealth of Massachusetts, 2002).           fact represented an advantage for those      in other programs. For that reason,
Bilingual programs were immediately          administrators trying to cover the real      bilingual education may contribute to
substituted with sheltered English im-       performance level of these students          reducing the achievement gap between
mersion (SEI) programs whose main            within such language-restrictive edu-        ELLs and their native-English speaking
purpose was to teach English language        cational policies.                          peers (August & Hakuta, 1997; Thomas
acquisition and content instruction              Additionally, the new law in Mas-        & Collier, 1997).
at the same time. English language           sachusetts did not establish any special         Question 2 enforced the minimiza-
learners could be included no longer         requirement or certification for teach-      tion of the use of the students’ native
than one year in SEI programs. After         ers to educate ELL students other than       language in schools. Initially, instruc-
that period, they would be placed into       being fluent in English. Contrary to         tors were banned from using any lan-
mainstream classes. Parents or guard-        this approach, Wright and Choi (2006)        guage other than English in class under
ians were given the option to apply for      state that teachers should be provided       the penalty of being fired. This rule was
a waiver not to be included in SEI pro-      with specific training and be supported      later modified in order to allow teach-
grams or to place their children in a bi-    throughout the school year. They ar-         ers to use a student’s native language
lingual program exclusively when one         gue that SEI classes should be taught        in SEI classes to help the student com-
of these conditions were met: (1) the        by certified teachers to ensure proper       plete a task, to clarify a point, or to re-
student is already able to speak Eng-        attention for these students. Further-       spond to a question (Berriz, 2005). 
lish; (2) the student is at least ten and    more, in their research in Arizona, they         However, researchers argue that
the school principal and teachers firmly     found that, after the implementation of      proficiency in a second language is
believe it is in the students’ best inter-   SEI, teachers felt confused about what       best acquired when the literacy in the
est; or (3) the student has special physi-   was and was not allowed in class ac-         first language is developed appropri-
cal or psychological needs (Secretary of     cording to the new laws and felt they        ately. In other words, the first language
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,           had not received guidance about what         skills operate as the basis of a common
2002).                                      type of instruction is appropriate for       ground that facilitates the acquisition
    In addition, the law also established    ELLs. In fact, when students are placed      of the second language. The belief that
an annual standardized test—the Mas-         into mainstream classes whose teachers       the more time students spend in a sec-
sachusetts English Proficiency Assess-       do not necessarily have the adequate         ond language context the quicker they
ment (MEPA)—as a requirement to              knowledge to meet their unique needs,        learn a second language does not have
measure the progress of English Lan-         they often struggle and fall behind aca-     empirical support. The first language
guage Learners (ELLs) (Secretary of          demically (Facella et al., 2005).           serves as a bridge to the second one to
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,               As has been mentioned previously,        ease the transition and instil better fu-
2002). However, Wright & Choi (2006)         the explicit goal of the approved anti-      ture learning (Genesee, 1999; Genesee
argue that���������������������������
              the accountability and pe-     bilingual education measure was to           et al., 2004; Krashen, 1996). In addi-
nalization of schools for low scores in      teach English as rapidly and effectively     tion, other studies report that a stu-
standardized tests end up being a bur-       as possible, in just one year, by exposing   dent’s level of literacy in the first lan-
den for all students, who then have to       children exclusively to English instruc-     guage may be a strong predictor of that
endure a type of “narrow-instruction”        tion. However, although children are         student’s potential to achieve profi-
(p. 47) that may prepare them for to-        able to master general linguistic skills     ciency in the second (Slavin & Cheung,
day’s immediate testing needs but not        more quickly, it is estimated that stu-      2005). 
for tomorrow’s education opportuni-          dents need between four and six years            A report from the National Institute
ties. They propose that students should      to become academically proficient in a       of Child Health (2000) suggests,
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                                SPRING 2009 | PAGE 67

   If language-minority children ar-         (Krashen, 2004; Wright & Choi, 2006).        based their campaign on the conceal-
   rive at school with no proficiency        Even worse, these laws generate a sense      ment of a confusing and uncomfortable
   in English but speaking a language        of rejection and inadequacy in non-na-       political issue. Behind this seemingly
   for which there are instructional         tive students that impedes their social      innocent and eloquent phrase they hid
   guides, learning materials, and lo-       progress and prepares them for a sub-        an open confrontation between a sup-
   cally available proficient teachers,      ordinate role in society (Berriz, 2005;      posedly unifying American identity
   these children should be taught           Bartolomé, 2008).                           and what they deemed divisive multi-
   how to read in their native language          As was the case in the national are-     cultural and multilingual ethnic com-
   while acquiring oral proficiency in       na, all available empirical data in favor    munities. This simplification of such
   English and subsequently taught           of the application and strengthening of      a complex question appealed to the
   to extend their skills to reading in      existent bilingual programs went com-        mainstream, White suburban voter in
   English. (p. 324)                        pletely overlooked in Massachusetts. In      Massachusetts (Markey, 2008). 
                                             November 2002, almost 70 percent of              In contrast, the campaign for bi-
    Krashen (1996) contends that, in         the population of Massachusetts voted        lingual education was founded on the
order for SEI programs to be effective,      in favor of Question 2 and against bi-       slogan “Don’t sue teachers,” a slogan
it is necessary that they provide com-       lingual education. The reasons for such      that came across as corporatist and
prehensive input in the language to be       overwhelming support of Question 2           not centered on students. In addition,
learned, which entails that all materi-      transcend the alleged empirical reasons      supporters of this campaign refused
als and resources used in the classroom      about the lack of effectiveness of bilin-    to bring cultural and racial issues into
should be adapted to meet the instruc-       gual education. As Capetillo-Ponce &         the debate, thinking that their message
tional needs and learning abilities of       Kramer (2006) observed, “what posed          would appeal to White suburbanites,
ELLs. In any case, a number of studies       as a referendum on bilingual educa-          most of whom ultimately ended up
have shown that bilingual education          tion may have been, in reality, a refer-     voting in favor of Question 2 (Markey,
programs that are properly set up and        endum on broader socio-political and         2008). 
correctly run provide a significant ad-      economic aspects of Massachusetts’s              Immediately after the referendum,
vantage over all-day English programs        society” (p. 275). Voters
                                                                        in Massachu-      the Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) ad-
for children acquiring English liter-        setts did not judge the effectiveness of     ministration dismantled all bilingual
acy (Cummins, 2000; Greene, 1998;            bilingual education; they pronounced a       programs in the district. The disman-
Krashen, 1996; Wiley & Wright, 2004).        judgment about the suitability of offer-     tling happened without any time to
ELLs perform better in programs that         ing bilingual education (Rivera, 2002).     plan a curriculum, acquire relevant
are designed with their needs in mind,           The debate about such suitability        materials, and train teachers. However,
programs that foster challenging ac-         was not decided exclusively by people        the ideological considerations prevailed
tivities, language development, and          affected by bilingual education. Where-      over considerations of the necessary
appropriate assessments (Genesee et          as 93% percent of the Latino population      requirements to adapt and implement
al., 2004). In this sense, it is essential   voted against Question 2 (Berriz, 2005;      a new instructional program (Berriz,
for “districts and schools [to] avoid the    Capetillo-Ponce & Kramer, 2006), a           2005).,In contrast with the delayed re-
use of one-size-fits-all scripted curricu-   White majority electorate made a de-         sponse to desegregation in the 1970s,
lar programs which are not designed          cision about the type of instruction         such an accelerated process of policy
for ELL students, and which cannot           that ethnolinguistic minority students       implementation had as its result “that
account for differences in English lan-      should receive regardless of any em-         the type of instruction that most ELLs
guage proficiency or academic ability”       pirical factors, instead basing this deci-   are receiving constitutes little more
(Wright & Choi, 2006, p. 49).               sion on political and cultural assump-       than a contemporary version of ‘sink or
    In summary, laws that limit the use      tions (Berriz, 2005; Markey, 2008).         swim’ submersion—a type of instruc-
of bilingual education and restrict the          The increasing immigration from          tion that is illegal” (Berriz, 2005, p. 12).
use of languages other than English          Third World countries, especially from       Recently, a state report has revealed
in schools lack the support of empiri-       Latin America and Asia, the wide-            that in 2008, only a little more than
cal data. Therefore, it is questionable      spread belief that the use of other lan-     fifty percent of Hispanic males gradu-
whether or not they improve the qual-        guages represent a serious threat to the     ate from high-school within four years
ity of the education that ELLs receive       unity of the nation and the dominance        (The Boston Globe, 2009). Such data
and ultimately “reduce drop-out rates,       of English, and the feeling that bilin-      shows the inadequacy of the educa-
improve literacy acquisition rates, and      gual education represents a gratuitous       tion system that in 2002 was imposed
promote social and economic advance-         “extra-privilege” for a group of ‘assim-     on these children. No doubt the con-
ment” (Secretary of the Commonwealth         ilation-resistant’ immigrants (mainly        sequences of Question 2 are lived day
of Massachusetts, 2002)�������������
                            . On the con-    Latinos) played a crucial role in the        in and day out by linguistic minority
trary, they create confusion about the       vote on Question 2 in Massachusetts          children cultural and linguistic experi-
appropriate instructional strategies         (Capetillo-Ponce & Kramer, 2006).           ences are silenced (De los Reyes, Nieto,
for teaching ELLs and endanger the               Using the slogan “English for the        & Diez, 2008). These students must
academic progress of these students          children,” supporters of Question 2          become skilled at navigating a school
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                               SPRING 2009 | PAGE 68

system that tags them with a presumed        clear minimum requisites to implement        tackled no matter how uncomfortable
disadvantage from the beginning: their       a solid bilingual program and dissemi-       they are. The inherent racist and op-
language.                                   nate it. In many of the states where anti-   pressive discourses behind the anti-bi-
                                             bilingual propositions have triumphed,       lingual education argument need to be
CONCLUSION AND FINAL                         parents found it hard to define what a       explicitly exposed and denounced. In
                                             bilingual program actually consists of,      such an open debate lies a real oppor-
RECOMMENDATIONS                              how it could be implemented, and how         tunity. McGroarty (2002) asserts that
    Often, bilingual education has been      to differentiate it from other approach-     Americans strongly value both greater
blamed for the lack of academic skills       es (Del Valle, 2003; Capetillo-Ponce &       acceptance of pluralism and greater
and educational opportunities of mi-         Kramer, 2006). This recommendation           emphasis on choice and individualism
nority language students. However,           is consistent with Wright and Choi’s         as expressive of an individual’s unique-
those shortfalls are mainly a result of      (2006) argument that                        ness. These concepts are at the core of
socio-economic structures of schools                                                      the divergence between democracratic
and in our society. Exploring the exist-        for any instructional model to be         and meritocratic principles. Bilingual
ing research literature makes it clear          successful and for any kind of in-        education can certainly be presented as
that the current negative vision of bi-         struction to be effective, there          a balancing force between them. 
lingual education is a response more to         needs to be: (a) clear guidelines on          Language rights need to be demys-
highly politicized questions about pre-         what the model is (and what it is         tified and the theory of the ‘additional
serving the American ethnic identity            not), (b) an established curriculum       privilege’ deconstructed. Language
and the whitewashing cultural melting           and accompanying curricular ma-           rights are not an ‘extra-advantage’ but
pot than to empirical facts. As Crawford        terials, (c) training in the proper       the factor that helps adjust an uneven
(2004) notes, “bilingual education has          implementation of the model and           playing field. In this regard, it becomes
aroused passions about issues of politi-        instructional use of the curriculum       essential to stress the positive effects
cal power and social status that are far        and materials, and (d) support for        of language rights in reducing the po-
removed from the classroom” (p. xvii).         this model and curriculum at the          tential for linguistic and social conflict.
    Research has sufficiently stressed          school and district level. (p. 40)        Language is a powerful force for mobi-
the benefits, both psychological and                                                      lizing public opinion to affect not only
educational, for students to be placed       Both schools and families would ben-         language policy, but also broad issues
in classrooms where they are able to         efit from the information about quality      of state formation, politics, and ad-
develop their skills in content subjects     language instructional programs and          ministration. Establishing “a system of
taught in their native languages and,        potential alternatives. This point would     language rights can protect all citizens
at the same time, develop their knowl-       also satisfy those who claim that fami-      from leaders who wish to use language
edge of a second language. Not only          lies have a right to choose how their        for destructive and unscrupulous aims”
does such an approach ease the transi-       children should be educated. Of course,      (Tollefson, 2002c, p.331). 
tion between one language and another        families should have the possibility of
without having students lose ground on       exercising genuine choice based on               In order to bring these issues to the
content subjects, but it also strength-      sound knowledge and solid data and           table, it will be necessary to count on
ens the students’ cognitive skills. Bilin-   not on others’ ideological motivations.      the expectations and actions of politi-
gual education may also have a posi-                                                     cians and school districts. Politicians
tive effect on students’ confidence and          Questions of power, race, and eth-       want to offer a quick solution to learn
self-esteem because it strongly values       nicity need to be brought up in the de-      English, which is the reason why shel-
their previous knowledge by actively         bate and made explicit. Only explicit        tered English immersion programs,
incorporating it into daily instruction      references to such questions will help       like the one implemented in Massa-
(Crawford, 1989, 2004; Cummins,              problematize assumptions about lan-          chusetts, place students in mainstream
1984, 2000; Padilla, 1991).                 guage such as (1) the validity of com-       classes in just one year. Bilingual edu-
    However, in order for bilingual edu-     petence in English as an indicator of        cation advocates need to spearhead
cation to be at the forefront of educa-      national loyalty; (2) the presumed           and organize a grassroots movement
tion policy, it is necessary for advocates   neutrality of Standard English; and          with the intention of propagating the
and researchers to face and respond to       (3) the sufficiency of willpower for its     multiple benefits of bilingual educa-
some of the following questions that re-     mastery (McGroarty, 2002). Strategies        tion and its effects on creating a more
main unanswered:                            to defend bilingual education have to        respectful and inclusive school climate.
                                             be reconsidered, and cases like Califor-     The advantages of bilingual educa-
    The Bilingual Education Act was not      nia, Arizona, and Massachusetts need         tion are not limited to newcomers. All
a flawless law. Its purpose was vague,       to be scrutinized to extract important       students could be able to attain profi-
and the means by which programs were         lessons. If issues that are beyond mere      ciency in two languages in the same
to be implemented were also left unclear     educational research make an essen-          manner as affluent students enrolled in
(Crawford, 2004). In this regard, it is      tial part of the debate about education      prestigious bilingual programs (Berriz,
necessary to build a theory establishing     programs, such questions need to be          2005). Indeed, the implementation of

bilingual education would represent a
qualitative jump in the pursuit of equal
opportunity and real integration. In
order to do so, teachers, parents, and
community organizations need to play
a fundamental role in the movement to
push reforms that bring bilingual edu-
cation back to the forefront of educa-
tion for democracy.

    Unfortunately, until these assump-
tions and attitudes are challenged, the
debate about bilingual education will
linger in a dead end street. The main
focus will be obscured with questions
of American loyalty and assimilation,
without taking into account the bet-
terment of democratic institutions
and the role of education as “the great
equalizer.” The real conditions of mil-
lions of students in our classrooms
will remain purposefully ignored, and,
what it is worse, they will be blatantly
blamed for their low achievement in
society. In the end, it also seems obvi-
ous to argue that any and all education
reforms should be intended to benefit
every student in every school. With that
approach in mind, politicians, school
administrators, teachers, parents, and
the community at large should have
access to empirical findings that point
to strategies that improve not only stu-
dents’ English proficiency but also their
chances of developing their academic
potential to the fullest. It is essential
to spell out, as James Crawford (2004)
asserts, “there is no contradiction be-
tween promoting fluent bilingualism
and promoting academic achievement
in English; indeed, these goals are mu-
tually supporting” (p. xv).

David Nieto is a doctoral candidate
in the John W. McCormack Graduate
School of Policy Studies at UMass-Bos-
ton. He has a background in Applied
Linguistics, and his main research in-
terests are Language and Education
Policy, Language Rights, and Immigra-
PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN EDUCATION                                                            SPRING 2009 | PAGE 70

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