NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 6, 1995

Almost the only children instructed in reading, writing and other subjects in their native language are Hispanic. Native speakers of Asian, African and European languages are usually put in immersion-type programs, and are more successful. This may account for different success rates among these groups.

  • Nearly 30 percent of Hispanic students dropout before finishing high school, a rate four times that of whites and three times that of blacks.
  • A 1994 New York study found that 80 percent of students enrolled in English-immersion classes graduated to mainstream English within three years, while only half the students in bilingual classes tested out that quickly.
  • The long term impact of the Hispanic dropout rate is that Hispanic unemployment rose to 10.2 in January, 1995, double the white rate for the first time in the 20 years figures have been collected.

Since the U.S. population of young Hispanics is forecast to grow 61% in the next 15 years, a disaster is in the making.

Bilingual education began in the late 1960s as a modest federal program to help impoverished Mexican-American children, half of whom could not speak English when they entered the first grade. Critics suggest it has become a $5.5 billion-a-year effort to preserve dual language use, principally by Hispanic students, and that it actually harms students.

Bilingual education is based on the theory that children can learn math, science and other subjects in their native tongue, while taking special classes to learn English. However, according to researchers, most controlled studies of low-English-proficiency (LEP) students have found that bilingual education is no more effective or even less effective in improving students' English skills than doing nothing.

There are alternatives to bilingual education that studies indicate are more effective, such as English as a Second Language (ESL) and structured immersion. In ESL, students attend regular classes, but are pulled out of class for language instruction. In structured immersion, subject matter is taught in simplified English.

Sources: Jorge Amselle, ed., "The Failure of Bilingual Education," 1996, Center for Equal Opportunity, 815 15th Street, NW, Suite 928, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 639-0803; Maria Puente and Sandra Sanchez, "Experts Call Educational Gap National Threat," USA Today, September 6, 1995.


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