The 14th Amendment in the United States Constitution dictates that any citizen of the United States shall receive the equal protection of civil rights, with due process of the law and cannot be discriminated against based upon race, origin, sex, class or political affiliation. Thus, educational policy in the United States is focused on providing the equal opportunities for all students. One heated debate in American education policy making is the use of bilingual education in public schools. Because there is a growing number of students (especially those in grade school) whose home language is not English, major literacy and learning disparities are created when non-english speaking students enroll in public schools that teach in English only. Students with limited English proficiency will have to work harder to achieve the same level of other students whose home language is English. Bilingual education is a program designed to alleviate the educational inequalities and disparities caused by present educational system. The focus of bilingual education is to guarantee that these students:
1. Learn the basic subjects (math, science, reading, social studies) in their home language from the time they enter school. The advantage of teaching students with limited English proficiency the basic subjects in their home language is that they will promote their academic progress while learning the English language.
2. Learn to read and write in the home language first, then eventually in English. Initial literacy skills are developed in the home language, and once the student is orally capable in English, literacy skills will continue in both languages. The misconception is that the student will have to learn to read all over again when studying English. This is wrong because when English is presented to the students, they will transfer the literacy skills gained from home language reading to English reading.
3. Begin learning English from the time they enter school. The development of oral English skills first and then the development of English literacy skills Contrary to conservative belief, the learning of the English language is one of the primary goals of bilingual education. (http://www.edb.utexas.edu/coe/depts/CI/bilingue/be-def.html)
Bilingual education and due process came under watch with the Supreme Court case of Lau vs. Nichols in 1973 in the city of San Francisco. According to San Franciscos state statute, one of the major goals of the school system is the proficiency of English for all students. However, the school system did not offer and ESL or remedial English class for 1,800 Chinese pupils. The pupils claimed that the school board was in violation of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI states that any person/group who are recipients of federal aid cannot discriminate against a person based on race, color, origin or class. (Zirkel, 115) The court decided that the failure to have remedial English classes for these 1800 Chinese students did violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the court did not agree if the San Francisco school board was in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment but acknowledged that the lack of remedial English educational did hamper the educational opportunities for these Chinese students. The court also could not decide if bilingual educational is the solution for the learning disparities and inequalities.
The inability of the Supreme Court to decide on the effectiveness of bilingual education left much room to debate in the American political landscape. Traditionally, politically organized ethnic groups have contributed greatly to the Democrat party. Republicans and other conservatives feel threatened by the increase power and voice of these groups. Thus, Republicans attacks the usefulness of Bilingual education and declares it unconstitutional. Actually, some republican members joined together and organized against bilingual education and the implementation of English as the official language of the United States. (Spring, 43) Making English the official language of the United States would only benefit those in power, majority culture will continue to maintain the current social order thus weakening ethnic politics. (Spring, 43)
1. Spring, Joel. Conflict of Interests: The Politics of American Education.
2. Zirkel, Perry A. A digest of supreme court decisions affecting education