English-only Movement Research Paper Starter

English-only Movement

(Research Starters)

Language is a strong tool that has been used in the past to socialize immigrant populations to American culture. After the Civil Rights movement, school law and policy began to support the use of native languages in the public school setting. However, when a large influx of immigrants was coupled with large budget cuts to educational programs, many states began to legislate English-only policies. Educators working under English-only policies can avail themselves of several alternatives to teach immigrant students.

Keywords Bilingual Education Act (BEA); Class Action; Colonization; Constitutional Entitlement; Cultural Identity; Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); English as a Second Language (ESL); English Language; English-only Movement; English-only Education; Limited English Proficiency; Multicultural Education; Rulemaking; State Initiatives

Politics, Government,


The second-grade classroom is deeply engrossed in learning. The teacher has asked the students to add letters to the word, ice, to create new words. Students are providing letters as the teacher helps them to learn spelling and vocabulary: nice, rice, lice, etc. Carlos is vigorously waving his arm, begging for the teacher to call on him. The teacher smiles and asks Carlos for his letters.

"P and r. The word will be price!" exclaims Carlos.

"Yes! And can you use the word in a sentence Carlos?"

"Oh, yes!" exclaims Carlos using his thick Spanish accent. "If your parents give you a dollar you can try to get a price from the price machine!"

As the teacher provides a gentle correction, the classroom atmosphere changes. The children, mostly Latino, cannot differentiate the sounds between "price" and "prize" and the teacher, speaking only English as mandated by law, struggles to explain the difference between the two words; how they sound and what they mean confuses the children. The learning moment quickly ends and the children who speak English as their second language largely disconnect from the lesson.

Would the lesson continue to be compelling and engaging if the teacher could have provided the Spanish words for "price" and "prize," quickly described (in Spanish if necessary) the hard s sound as how one differentiates the words, and then moved on? Would more effective learning have occurred for her students? The teacher works in one of the twenty-seven states that have declared English as the official language (Crawford, 2012) and her school's policies preclude her from finding out if mixing Spanish and English in the classroom would be a more effective teaching technique for her students (80 percent of whom are Latinos).

There is a large controversy in America regarding how to properly educate immigrant children in the public school arena. There appear to be two major questions driving this controversy:

• As the majority of the states have formally recognized English as the official language of America, how should children who speak English as a second language be allowed to utilize their homeland language in the public schoolhouse; and

• How should immigrant children be taught the English language?

English as the Official Language of America

Past generations were taught that America is a "melting pot." The people who immigrated to the United States were eager to take on its customs, ideologies, and language as they sought opportunities and advancement within American society (Citrin, Reingold, Walters, & Green, 1990). In the 1960s, civil rights issues challenged the notion of a national melting pot. People began to wonder how diverse people were supposed to take on a singularized identity without losing large portions of their cultural identities. People of color began to rebel against what they believed to be the colonization of minority populations in the United States. Many people of color began to fight to create public spaces in which they could cultivate and carry on their culture (or the culture of their ancestors). Language was identified as one of the areas in which they sought change. They claimed a constitutional entitlement to language rights and began to insist on public information being available in their native language (often, but not always, Spanish). For approximately a decade, the English speaking majority appeared to be amenable to the changes; laws, regulations, and judicial decisions appeared sympathetic to the language rights cause.

The Bilingual Education Act

In 1968, the Bilingual Education Act was enacted. The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) is Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary in 2001 and renamed again in 2010 by President Obama as A Blueprint and Secondary Education. BEA was the first federal recognition of the differentiated needs of children with limited English speaking ability. It provided federal funds to offer bilingual education and to develop classes promoting an appreciation of culture and ancestral language for students from low-income families who were non-English or limited English speakers. However, it did not explicitly require students to be taught in their native language in school. The monies were disbursed via competitive grants and could be used for:

• Teacher training, development, and dissemination of educational materials;

• Projects that promoted meaningful parental involvement, and

• Resources for educational programs (Stewner-Manzanares, 1988).

Its objective was to support children who spoke a predominant language other than English in becoming fully literate in English while preserving an appreciation for their cultural identities.

The 1974 amendment to the BEA Although the original BEA went far in recognizing the needs of bilingual students, it remained a bit ambiguous as to how to create equal educational opportunities. Additionally, program participation was voluntary; the program was inconsistent in the provision of services for limited English speaking students. Lau v. Nichols was a class action suit alleging the San Francisco school district was denying equal educational opportunity to its Chinese students because of their limited English proficiency. The lower courts ruled for the school district, but in 1974 the Supreme Court overturned that decision. The Court wrote that, just as "separate but equal" does not constitute educational equality (Brown v. Board of Education,1954) providing students of vastly differing language abilities the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curricula did not automatically provide equality of educational opportunity (Crawford, 1994; Lau v. Nichols, 1974). This decision appeared to influence the BEA amendment.

Hence, the 1974 amendment to the BEA specified that educational instruction was to be provided in both English and the native language of the student to prepare the student to eventually succeed in mainstream classrooms. The low-income rule was eliminated, giving all students of limited English proficiency a chance to participate. Time-limited funding was provided to allow school districts the opportunity to research, staff and develop the new programs. A national clearinghouse was established to collect and disseminate information regarding bilingual education (Stewner-Manzanares, 1988).

The Lau Remedies

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare prepared a set of guidelines (known as the Lau Remedies) to provide guidance in the development of educational plans that would remedy civil rights violations. The Lau Remedies specifically provided for native language instruction, and the population to be served was expanded to include any student population that had twenty or more students speaking the same language as their primary language, regardless of proficiency and income. Racial segregation was strictly prohibited, which created more complexity in providing meaningful services without creating isolation of the students from their English speaking peers (Stewner-Manzanares, 1988).

Soon after the 1974 reauthorization, social and economic pressures began to create public resistance to the bilingual programs. The United States was experiencing a recession; federal and local funds were being cut as a result. The public became aware that the expenses of the bilingual programs (coupled with large budget cuts) were limiting educational opportunities for the other students in their schools. Additionally, the public began to object to the use of federal funds to promote language maintenance among non-English speaking students.

New Amendments

The amendments made to the BEA in 1978 reflected these growing public concerns. They expanded the scope of service to include all students of limited English proficiency and mandated that programs were to be utilized as transitional vehicles in which the goal was to move the students to regular classroom instruction as quickly as possible. Any programs designed to maintain native language were prohibited, and the amendment clearly required that native language only be used in ways that were necessary to assist the students in becoming proficient in English. Accountability issues were addressed by funding an evaluative piece that would measure the effectiveness of the BEA programs.

Removal of the Lau Remedies

Another lawsuit in 1979, Northwest Arctic v. Department of Health Education and Welfare, created the need for the rules set forth in the Lau Remedies (and all future proposed regulations) to be subject to the laws of rulemaking. After a long year of public comment, debate, and argument (and an effort by Congress to stop implementation by claiming educational...

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