Bilingual Education Act (1968)

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968 was another important step for bilingual education. In particular, Title VII of that act, known as the Bilingual Education Act, established federal policy for bilingual education. Citing its recognition of “the special educational needs of the large numbers children of limited English-speaking ability in the United States,” the Act stipulated that the federal government would provide financial assistance for innovative bilingual programs. Funding would be provided for the development of such programs and for implementation, staffing and staff training, and long-term program maintenance.

Title VII has been amended several times since its establishment, and it was reauthorized in 1994 as part of the Improving America’s Schools Act. The basic goal has remained the same: access to bilingual programs for children of limited means.

The No Child Left Behind Act (2001)

In 2001, Congress passed a law known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This law significantly amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the BEA, even going so far as to completely remove the word “bilingual” and to rename the BEA the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act (this article will continue to refer to that provision as the “BEA”).

As the name change to the BEA implies, the NCLB drastically altered the federal government’s approach to bilingual education. Rather than the prior focus on maintaining an immigrant student’s culture and native language, the NCLB emphasizes English-language instruction and the goal of assimilation into regular classrooms as quickly as possible.

The NCLB requires the states to implement standardized testing in several K-12 grades as a condition of receiving federal funding. Test scores must be reported and published and schools that consistently underperform or fail to improve sufficiently face sanctions that can include teacher and staff replacement.

In most circumstances, the NCLB allows for a maximum three-year transition period for English-learning students to be placed in classes with native English speakers. Because of the NCLB’s emphasis on standardized testing as a means of determining performance, and because English-learning students must take the same standardized tests as other students, schools with many immigrant students may face a disadvantage.