Bilingual Education and Latino Civil Rights

Satisfactory Essays
While the population of language minority children in the nation makes up a substantial part of the student population, and continues to grow, their educational civil rights have come under increasing scrutiny and attack over the past decade. All students have the right to be provided access to content area knowledge. Bilingual education, or teaching through the native language, has been an important technique for providing that right to English language learners. However, the use of this educational technique has been increasingly criticized and eroded over the past ten years. To look at this broad issue, I will examine the history of civil rights for language minority children, the assumptions behind the attack on bilingual education, and suggest responses to safeguard the rights of language minority students.

The number of English language learning (ELL) students in the U.S. has grown dramatically in the last decade. According to a 1991 national study, there are over 2,300,000 students in grades K through 12 who are English language learners (August & Hakuta, 1997). This number has grown by over 1,000,000 since 1984. The majority of these students are Spanish-speakers (73%), followed by Vietnamese-speakers (3.9%). Because the overwhelming proportions of ELL students are Spanish speakers, the issue of bilingual education is largely a Latino one. No other language group makes up more than 4% of limited English proficient students. What complicates the issue of education for language minority students is their low socioeconomic status. 80% of ELL students are poor, and most attend schools where the majority of students also live in poverty and are English language learners. There is some difference in the level of poverty among language groups. Here, again, Latinos are disproportionately represented: 57% of Spanish-speaking families earn less than $20,000 compared to, for example, only 35% of families where Asian/Pacific Island languages are spoken (McArthur, 1993). Poverty has many implications for educational achievement, for example, parents' educational attainment mirror income levels, and parents' educational achievement is highly linked to that of their children's.

Despite the high number of ELL students, it is difficult to know, because of lack of data to see what type of educational programs they participate in. According to Prospects, a 1995 national survey, reading and math were taught in programs using bilingual education in less than half of first and third grade classrooms serving limited English proficient students. Offered more frequently were programs where instruction was offered only in English, or where instructional aides, not teachers, were the vehicles for native language instruction.
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