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No Child Left Behind and Bilingual Education

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was a landmark education policy signed into law. Its primary goal was to ensure that every student received high-quality academic content and to ensure that students met certain academic standards. This included English Language Learners (ELLs). The NCLB Act emphasized the importance of student achievement and the importance of areas like language arts and math.

ELLs are sometimes referred to as Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. They come from diverse backgrounds. They often speak a second language, like Spanish, at home. These students face challenges in mastering English language skills to succeed in school. NCLB mandates require schools to track the English language skills of ELLs. They usually did this through high-stakes testing. It also emphasized that ELL students should make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in their content areas, just like their peers.

This article provides a short overview of the Bilingual Education Act. It discusses how the NCLB affects bilingual education in America.

A Brief Background of the Bilingual Education Act

In 1965, Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This law provides the federal government with the authority to fund public schools. With that authority, they have the ability to influence education goals and policy. The ESEA was later reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

The Bilingual Education Act (BEA) was enacted into law by Congress in 1968. Congress passed the BEA during the Civil Rights Movement. It was the first federal law passed specifically to address the needs of ELLs.

One of the pivotal moments in bilingual education history was the Supreme Court case Lau v. Nichols (1974)The Supreme Court emphasized and upheld equal educational opportunities for language-minority students. This set the foundation for later laws and policies. Many policies added provisions for bilingual and dual-language programs.

The 1974 amendments to the BEA were made in an attempt to clarify the intent and design of the programs, which had previously been voluntary with the school districts. These amendments defined the Bilingual Education Program as providing instruction in English and in the native language of the student, defined the Program's goal to prepare these students to participate effectively in the regular classroom while maintaining the student's native language and culture, and other related goals.

The BEA's Key Provisions

The U.S. Department of Education oversaw the initiatives of the BEA. Its goal was to ensure every student succeeds. They worked closely with state education agencies to make this vision a reality. To support ELLs, NCLB had a specific section — Title III. This section focused on language learning and instructional programs. These programs helped to assist ELLs and immigrant children with English language proficiency.

Prior to the initial passage of the BEA, several states began experimenting with bilingual education programs in the mid-1960s. It was viewed as one of the most important developments during the movement for equal rights. It was a way to assist the increasing number of Asian and Latin American immigrants. This followed the 1965 repeal of the "national-origin system."

The BEA has been amended five times since its passage, and amendments continued these programs with increased funding. Until 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted, the BEA's key provisions included:

  • Emphasizing the goal of preparing English-learning students for regular classroom instruction
  • Maintaining their native languages and cultures
  • Committing the federal government to support state bilingual education programs
  • Providing grants that adopt promising, innovative policies to assist ELLs
  • Permitting funding for ELLs to enroll in "immersion" and other bilingual education programs
  • Creating programs for teachers to learn the most effective methods for helping ELLs

The primary purpose of BEA was to provide funding to schools, which helped to develop and install bilingual and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. ESL programs, as well as dual language programs, became crucial. These programs provided instruction in English, helping ELLs bridge the gap. In states like Texas and New York, there was a significant enrollment of ELLs in schools and they had to create robust programs to support these students.

Teachers of English played a vital role in both ESL and bilingual settings. These educators needed specialized training to address the unique needs of ELLs, including ELLs with disabilities. Special education became essential in ensuring these students got the right support.

Over the years, other alternatives emerged. Charter schools, for example, sometimes began offering unique instructional programs tailored for ELLs. In secondary school or high school, ensuring ELLs were ready for college or a career was of utmost importance. With all these efforts and initiatives, the aim remained clear. The goal was to ensure ELLs receive a high-quality education. Students needed to acquire the language skills and academic content necessary for success in the future.

The No Child Left Behind Act

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. It went so far as to remove the term bilingual completely and renamed the BEA. It became the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act. However, this article will continue to refer to that provision as the BEA.

The NCLB required the states to use standardized testing as a condition for receiving federal funding. Test scores must be reported and published. Schools that consistently underperform or fail to improve sufficiently face sanctions. This could include teacher and staff replacement.

Under NCLB, the use of bilingual education wasn't prohibited. However, the emphasis on standardized testing in English made many schools prioritize immersion. The accountability measures related to English proficiency also added to this pressure.

The NCLB's Effects on Bilingual Education

The NCLB drastically altered the federal government's approach to bilingual education. The prior focus was on maintaining an immigrant student's culture and native language. The NCLB, however, emphasized English-language instruction. The goal was assimilation into regular classrooms as quickly as possible.

In most cases, the NCLB allowed for a three-year maximum transition period. This period was for ELLs to be placed in classes with native English speakers. The NCLB emphasized standardized testing as a means of determining performance. ELLs must take the same standardized tests as other students, so schools with many non-English speaking students were at a disadvantage.

NCLB's Title III replaced the Bilingual Education Act's Title VII. It shifted the emphasis from bilingual education to English acquisition. Funds could still be used for bilingual programs, but the clear priority was for ELLs to become proficient in English. The NCLB Act and the BEA are significant pieces of U.S. education policy and are important for ELLs.

Not everyone was in favor of English-only programs. Some believed bilingual education was more beneficial. Supporters argued these programs would help students maintain their native language. They could maintain their native language while acquiring English.

Some NCLB critics took the position that the focus shift affected students' cultural understanding. They argued bilingual education allowed immigrant and native-born students to develop this understanding. Critics claimed sanctions were unfair to low-performing schools and argued they unfairly targeted schools with high numbers of ELLs or low-income students.

Modern Day: NCLB and BEA

The NCLB Act and the BEA have left indelible imprints on U.S. education policy, especially about ELLs. Today, both of these acts have evolved significantly. In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB. ESSA maintained an emphasis on standardized testing while also addressing many of NCLB's criticisms by returning more decision-making power to the states.

Under ESSA, states have more flexibility in designing accountability systems. They can set their own academic standards and choose interventions for struggling schools. For ELLs, their performance and English language fluency became central. ESSA gave states more autonomy in setting achievement goals for these students.

The BEA's journey has been slightly different. The passage of ESSA brought some changes. While English fluency remained paramount, ESSA allowed states more leeway in how they use funds to support ELLs. Despite federal policy shifts, the value of bilingualism has been recognized at state and local levels.

How an Attorney Can Help

The NCLB Act placed an emphasis on student achievement. It also created mandates for ELLs. This played a significant role in shaping the landscape of bilingual education. The U.S. Department of Education works with state education agencies and dedicated teachers. These people work together to make sure every student achieves regardless of their ability to speak English.

If you have questions about bilingual education, an attorney can help. These attorneys are knowledgeable about the state laws that will affect your case. They can also help with any other emergent laws that are important for you to know.

You can consult with an education law attorney through FindLaw.

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