Educating English Learners: Reconciling Bilingualism and Accountability
Rosemary C. Salomone
St. John's University - School of Law
March 21, 2012
Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 115, 2012
St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-0002
Since Congress enacted the Bilingual Education Act in 1968 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), policymakers, educators and researchers have debated the use of the home language in the education of students identified as “English Learners.” In recent years, the language question appears to have receded, overtaken by the current national fixation on accountability. The discussion has moved from ”best practices” and the relative merits of dual language instruction to the pros and cons of testing and the feasibility of accommodating language differences in designing valid and reliable assessment tools. The pending reauthorization of the ESEA, and the productivity agenda driving that effort, together present a critical point for addressing these developments and their implications.
In this essay, I attempt to reconcile the underlying tension between promoting the EL student’s bilingual potential and holding state and local educators accountable for student achievement. Striking a reasonable balance, I consider the diverse needs and backgrounds of this growing population. I outline essential factors for charting a federal role in affording English Learners an education that gives adequate weight to accountability while allowing local discretion to meet student needs and family preferences regarding home language instruction. And while federal law merely requires that states and school districts provide EL students with English proficiency and “meaningful participation” in the education program, I point to an increasing body of research supporting the benefits of dual language learning as a matter of policy. In the end, I present the child’s home language not as an inherent “deficiency” or barrier to social and economic advancement, as conventionally believed, but as a personal and national resource in a world where multilingual competencies carry political and economic currency.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 24, 2012
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