Bilingual Education

BACKGROUND: Opponents of bilingual education believe that limited English-proficient (LEP) students are placed in such programs and gain little in the way of attaining English language fluency. Supporters claim that bilingual education programs are vital in helping LEP students acquire not only English language skills, but also in learning and developing vital basic educational skills, such as math proficiency and analytical abilities. Indeed, a 1993 study conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and co-sponsored by the Washington State House and Senate Education Committees found that programs encouraging native language development and literacy are the most effective method for teaching LEP students basic educational and English language skills. The study found that "Students who are competent in their native language can be more efficient learners of English." Moreover, the study went on to state that "To teach (LEP students) just the English language results in academic delay."

LEGISLATION: In the current legislative session obvious attacks on state bilingual education programs are under way. Two bills, HB 1335 and HB 1336, aim to change the way bilingual education is carried out in the state.

HB 1335 would change transitional bilingual education programs into English language proficiency programs, and in effect eliminate bilingual education. The billís sponsor argues that students whose primary language is not English are having difficulty meeting state learning standards mandated in RCW 28A.150.210. The sponsor believes that a program designed to promote English language proficiency over all other transitional bilingual education programs would help the individual school districts meet these standards.

This bill is harmful to LEP students because tried and true methods of teaching these students would be discontinued. Instead English language proficiency programs, and teaching English first, would take priority over all other programs, including programs that donít allow students to fall behind in learning basic educational skills. Furthermore, the intent of this bill is contrary to the two results mentioned from the 1993 study on bilingual education.

HB 1336 wants to give parents the option to decline having their children in bilingual education programs. However, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) already has a policy in place allowing parents to have a choice as to whether they want their children to be enrolled in such programs at public schools. Therefore, this piece of legislation is suspect.

The other goal of this bill is to send reports of the studentís educational progress to their parents. The language of the bill does not mention in which language the parents will receive their child's progress reports, English or the language spoken at home.


óAntonio Cube, Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice (WAIRJ)

(206) 340-9187 or