NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Despite Failure, Bilingual Ed Expands

September 5, 1997

Despite nearly 30 years of failure, Congress and the President have agreed to increase federal financing for bilingual education to $354 million -- double the amount spent in 1996.

  • A recent U.S. Department of Education report found a dropout rate of 30 percent for Hispanics between the ages of 16 and 24, more than double the dropout rate for blacks or whites in the same age group.
  • It also found that Hispanic students who spoke English well were far less likely to drop out than those who did not.
  • And a 1994 New York City Board of Education study shows that more than 90 percent of the students who started bilingual education in the sixth grade were unable to pass an English language test after three years, and those most likely to still be in bilingual ed after four years were Hispanic.

But like the federal government, the New York State Education Department is expanding such programs. For example, in June the state issued new guidelines that route to bilingual education those students from English-speaking Caribbean nations who speak or understand a Creole language and score in the bottom 40 percent on an English language test . Yet in the Caribbean, these students would have been taught in English.

An alternative is structured immersion, which requires students to speak only English in the classroom. This approach is used at Middlebury College Language Schools, the Pentagon's Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and a program at the City University of New York.

Education reformers say parents should have an easy-to-exercise option of sending their children to a program of structured immersion instead of bilingual education.

Source: Diane Ravitch (Brookings Institution), "First Teach Them English," New York Times, September 5, 1997.


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