By GreatSchools Staff
Bilingual education means instruction in two languages. In general, however, it refers to a range of classroom strategies that include instruction in the student's primary language.
Bilingual education policies vary by state. In some states, students who require help learning English may be called "English language learners" or "limited English proficient"
In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, an initiative that limits non-English language instruction for students who are learning English. It requires that new English learner (EL) students be instructed in English in a special class for one year, after which students are mainstreamed into regular classes and possibly provided with extra support. After the first month of school, parents may petition a school to provide instruction in the students' native language as well as in English.
Bilingual programs are based on research showing that children will learn to read more quickly in English if they are taught to read in their native language first. For example, bilingual proponents believe that a 10-year-old student moving to the U.S. from Mexico who cannot read Spanish will have trouble reading English right away; the first step should be to teach him to read in Spanish, then to help him learn to decode English. While bilingual programs have been around for almost 100 years, recently they have come under fire due to concerns that children are not mastering English sufficiently. Opponents of bilingual education argue that the quickest path to helping students read and speak English is by immersing them in English.
Although educators may continue to debate bilingual education, if current political trends continue, schools and districts will be decreasing the emphasis on teaching students in their native language and focusing instead on teaching in English.
If your child is an English learner, you'll need to make up your own mind about what's right for your child. Since bilingual education policies vary by state, check with your district to find out more about how bilingual education is handled in your school and, if necessary, to advocate for appropriate bilingual policies in your community.
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