The Decline of Bilingual Education in the USA: How To Reverse a Troubling Trend?
By James Crawford

For decades, bilingual education has faced political adversity to varying degrees. Having survived several waves of English-only activism since the late 1970s, these programs seem unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Research has increasingly demonstrated their superiority to all-English approaches for educating English language learners (ELLs), as documented by meta-analyses of the literature (see Krashen&McField, 2005, for a recent review).

Nevertheless, the continued availability of bilingual education for significant numbers of ELLs is now in doubt. This is partly due to an anti-bilingual backlash, as manifested by English-only school initiatives adopted by voters in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts. In recent years, however, a new and more formidable threat has emerged: the trend toward ‘holding schools accountable’ through high-stakes testing, primarily in English, to meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002). Despite provisions requiring instructional programs to reflect ‘scientifically based research,’ the law provides indirect but powerful incentives to ignore this principle when it comes to ELLs. That is, it encourages schools to abandon native-language instruction in favor of all-English approaches.

The anti-bilingual backlash has clearly taken a toll. Between 1992 and 2002, as the number of ELLs in grades K–12 grew by 72% nationwide, the enrollment of ELLs in bilingual programs declined from 37% to 17% (Zehler et al., 2003). Clearly, state mandates for all-English instruction have had a significant impact.

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