Language Education Policy Studies
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Bilingual Education Models in the U.S

The number of Limited-English-Proficient (LEP) students -- also known as English Language Learners (ELLs), language-minority children who have difficulties in speaking, comprehending, reading, or writing in English that affect their school performance -- is growing every year. According to Margo Gottlieb (2006) any student in grades K-12 exposed to a cultural and language other than English in daily interaction in his or her home environment is considered a linguistically and culturally diverse student.


Ohio was the first state to adopt a bilingual education law with a German-English instruction in 1839. Since the 17th century, when bilingual education was implemented in public schools to support language-minority students’ needs, it became very controversial because of a shortage of trained teachers and debates over the goals and effectiveness of such programs. As the number of ELLs grows, the number of teachers who work with this population increases as well. The Office for Civil Rights guidelines, following the Lau v. Nichol, 414 U.S.563 civil right case (1974), provides educational service to non-English speaking students; bilingual education should be implemented in all school districts with at least 20 ELLs who represented the same language. In 1975, the National Association for Bilingual Education is founded. However, bilingual programs differ in how much each language is used, and the years of instruction students have in their mother language.  Classrooms in bilingual programs may consist exclusively of ELLs, or they may include native speakers of English who are learning a second language. The initial selection to identify the ELLs begins with a Language Home Survey where schools differentiate monolingual English-speaking students from the ones whose home environment is considered linguistically and culturally diverse. After the survey when they are identified, a screening is required and if a student qualifies as ELL, he or she is eligible to receive language support. Supports and models are classified as transitional, developmental, or two-way bilingual education, depending on the program’s process and objective. Bilingual models are generally designed as follows:

There is a great variety of bilingual programs and a long political and cultural discussion related to the benefits of such programs, consequently students are affected by the bilingual education instability and political fray. Opponents want to prevent students from emerging from bilingual programs speaking only their mother tongue, claiming that many bilingual education programs fail to teach students English and tend to have poor methodologies. Advocates say that bilingual programs develop a positive attitude toward the native culture of the students and if we choose to offer bilingual programs that enhance minority students’ language, we will allow them to grow in potential (Ovando, 2003). In practice, before 1994, policy-makers’ discussion of the results in bilingual education focuses mainly on English language proficiency while disregarding other variables, such as minority language students’ performance in core subject instructions. The No Child Left Behind Act changed the policy and now all students, ELL and non-ELLs, need to meet the standard in content areas.  The success of bilingual programs carry the same principles that lie behind all other successful language acquisition programs, therefore if they are properly designed, they have a very good chance to be successful.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Lopes, J. (2013). Bilingual Education Models in the U.S. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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