From the Colonial era to the present, Bilingual Education has been a highly debated issue. The United States has gone through periods of high and low tolerance of Bilingual Education programs throughout the history of the nation. From the first non-English speaking settlers of the United States, to the repression of the Native American languages and cultures, to the new wave of immigrants in the early 20th century, to the anti-immigrant sentiment brought on by both of the World Wars, to a time of brief progressive action in the 1960s, and finally to an age where post-September eleventh nativist attitudes appear to be legislating Bilingual Education Policy, the events of the history of this country have been key factors in determining the policies and legislation surrounding Bilingual Education.
- The first Bilingual Education schools opened prior to 1800, were not public, and were chiefly parochial institutions. German, French and Scandinavian immigrants opened bilingual schools.
- Many of these first "bilingual schools" were not even bilingual; they were non-English speaking schools where English was taught as a subject.
- The California Bureau of Instruction mandated that all schools teach only in English.
- The school superintendent of the St. Louis school district, William Harris, argued for and promoted Bilingual Education by founding the first kindergarten taught solely in German. His intent was to give immigrant students a "head start" in the St. Louis school district.
- German instruction ceased in schools in St. Louis, San Francisco, St. Paul and Louisville.
- With the new wave of immigrants arriving in the United States, the issue of language instruction was pushed to the front burner.
- Nearly four percent of German children enrolled in elementary school, received part of their education in German.
- The United States entered World War I.
- Anti-German sentiment prompted many schools to end German-English instruction.
1923 Meyer vs. State of Nebraska
- Based on a Nebraska act passed in 1919, this court case reaffirmed the Nebraska policy that no person should teach any subject to any person in any language besides English.
- No foreign language may be taught (with the exception of "dead" languages) before the student has passed the eighth grade.
- English should be the mother tongue of all children reared in Nebraska so that they may become citizens of "the most useful type" and so that public safety is not imperiled.
1927 Farrington vs. Tokushige
- Overturned Hawaii's restriction on foreign language schools.
- Held that Japanese parents "have the right to direct the education of their own children without unreasonable restrictions."
- The 1940s saw the expansion of English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.
- The first modern Bilingual Education program was developed for Spanish-speaking Cubans and Anglos at Coral Way Elementary School in Dade County, Miami, Florida. The program was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.
1971 United States vs. State of Texas, et al.
- Issue: whether or not the San Felipe and Del Rio schools districts were providing Mexican-American students an equal educational opportunity.
- Federal Court Order: Civil Action 5281 eliminated discrimination on grounds of race, color, or national origin in public and charter schools in Texas.
1972 Aspira of New York, Inc. vs. Board of Education of the City of New York
- Aspira claim: linguistic and cultural needs of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics were not being fully addressed.
- Provided development of Bilingual programs "for all NYC public school children whose English language deficiency prevents them from effectively participating in the learning process and who can effectively participate in Spanish."
1973 Keyes vs. Denver School District No.1
- All school districts were determined responsible for regulations that resulted in racial isolation, including schools in racially isolated neighborhoods and gerrymandered attendance zones.
- This was the first court decision to recognize the right Latinos had to attend desegregated educational settings.
- Latinos were placed in the same category as African-Americans: "both groups suffer from the same educational inequities when compared with the treatment afforded Anglo students."
1974 "Lau" decision (Lau vs. Nichols)
- Guaranteed children an opportunity to a "meaningful education" regardless of their language background; if a student does not understand English instruction, they are deprived of a meaningful education.
- Language-minority students must be ensured access to the same curriculum provided to their English-speaking peers via "affirmative steps" (eg. bilingual instruction, English as a second language (ESL) classes, or other approaches)
- All U.S. school districts with more than 20 ESL students from a single language background were required to submit periodic reports to the Office of Civil Rights specifying the types of programs offered to children of language minorities.
1974 Serna vs. Portales
- The 10th Circuit Court Appeals found that Spanish surnamed students' achievement levels were below those of their Anglo counterparts.
- The court ordered Portales Municipal Schools to implement a bilingual/bicultural curriculum to accommodate non-English speaking students.
- Texas Education Agency Bilingual/ESL Unit revised procedures for assessing achievement in August of 2004 to hire bilingual school personnel.
1978 Rios vs. Reed
- The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that the Pastchogue-Medford School District's transitional bilingual program was essentially a course in English.
- Students were denied an equal educational opportunity by not receiving academic instruction in Spanish.
- The court wrote: "A denial of educational opportunities to a child in the first years of schooling is not justified by demonstrating that the educational program employed will teach the child English sooner than a program comprised of more extensive Spanish instruction."
- Jimmy Carter established the Department of Education
- The Bilingual Education campaign was now able to step up its efforts through the newly established Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs.
1982 Plyler vs. Doe
- Decision: The Texas statute that denied undocumented children a public-school education violated the 14th Amendment 's equal protection clause.
1995 Missouri vs. Jenkins
- Issue: Did a District Court exceed its power by imposing an increase in the property taxes levied by the Kansas City, Missouri School District in an effort to ensure the funding for the desegregation of the district's public schools?
- The District Court abused its discretion by imposing the tax increase; however, while increasing teacher salaries was essential for desegregation, it was not necessarily a remedy.
- Once the lingering effects of legally enforced segregation were eliminated, it would be perfectly legal for the district to operate schools that happened racially uniform.
- Decision: Districts did not need to demonstrate that the support services produced measurable gains for the students subjected to a history of discrimination.
- With this decision, local school districts with a history of treating some students unfairly were now trusted to treat them fairly with no federal regulation or state monitoring.
- African-American and Latinos, the groups of people who were more adversely affected by the segregation, lacked the political influence to achieve desegregation through the political process.