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Bilingual Education Grows in Texas, Declines in Some Other States

I hear a lot of talk about how provisions for English-language learners in the the No Child Left Behind Act are indirectly making it more difficult for schools to offer bilingual education programs. I checked out this premise for an article that runs in Education Week this week.

What I found was that it varies greatly from state to state whether NCLB has put a damper on bilingual education programs, because state policies differ so much. For example, in states that offer some tests in students' native languages--which is permitted by the federal law--bilingual programs are having an easier time surviving than in states that administer their tests only in English. In Texas, which requires bilingual education at the elementary grades and provides math and reading tests in Spanish for those grades, bilingual education is growing. In Arizona and California, on the other hand, which passed ballot initiatives to curtail bilingual education and require testing to be in English, bilingual education has dramatically declined.

Here's what I learned about bilingual education in a sample of states.

Arizona: In the 1999-2000 school year--prior to passage of a ballot initiative against bilingual education--31 percent of ELLs were in bilingual education; in 2006, 2 percent of the state's 135,000 ELLs were in such programs.

California: Twenty-nine percent of ELLs were in bilingual education just prior to passage in 1998 of a ballot initiative to curb the method. The percentage then soon dropped to 12 percent. In 2006, 6 percent of California's 1.6 million ELLs were in bilingual education.

Illinois: In this state that requires bilingual education, 76 percent of ELLs were in such programs in 2001; in 2006, the percentage was 78 percent.

New Jersey: Sixty-six percent of the state's ELLs were in bilingual education in the 2002-2003 school year; in the 2005-2006 school year, the percentage was 64 percent. Bilingual education is required in New Jersey.

New York: Forty-five percent of the state's ELLs are in bilingual education this school year. New York doesn't have a comparable figure for the school year before passage of NCLB, but state officials believe the proportion of students in bilingual education has stayed about the same for many years. The state requires bilingual education.

Texas: The percentage of the state's ELLs in bilingual education has grown from 51 percent to 54 percent since the 2001-2002 school year. Texas has 732,000 English-language learners.

So what's the case nationwide? The only data I could find were released in 2003 and show that from 1993 to 2003, the proportion of English-language learners receiving "some" or "significant" native-language instruction declined to 29 percent from 53 percent. (Read the study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, here. "Volume I: Research Report" cites the national figures.) Thus, in the years leading up to passage of NCLB, bilingual education was decreasing in popularity.

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