Commission Hears Bilingual Education Advocates

Published August 1, 2001

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights examined bilingual education programs at a Washington, DC hearing in April, but largely heard testimony from leading advocates of bilingual education, such as Stanford University Professor of Education Kenji Hakuta and David Ramirez, director of the Center for Language Minority Education and Research.

“The research is quite clear that, all things being equal, there are advantages of bilingual education over English-only instruction,” said Hakuta, presenting his own research findings. He reported it takes students between four and seven years to learn English, depending on factors such as socioeconomic status, the age at which they enter U.S. schools, and the level of education they obtained prior to U.S. immigration. He also testified about the importance of maintaining a consistent educational approach for English learners.

Responding to Hakuta’s testimony, Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom pointed out that English learners in California had made significant improvements when they were moved out of bilingual education and into mainstream English classrooms following that state’s 1998 passage of Proposition 227. Second-grade English learners improved their standardized test scores by 9 percentile points in reading and 14 percentile points in math in the two years immediately following the new California law.

Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh also was critical of the panel’s leanings on bilingual education.

“The Commission’s refusal to acknowledge the need for reform is a step backwards, to the detriment of the country’s 4 million English learners,” said Redenbaugh. “Certainly, a lack of English proficiency is an enormous tax on one’s future income potential.”