This article describes the history, theories and research of bilingual education practice and describes the most common program types currently utilized in K-12 public education. Bilingual Education is a term used to describe a wide variety of programs that utilize two languages to teach academic content. Some bilingual programs are designed to develop full bilingualism, or the ability to use two languages proficiently; others use the native language to facilitate the acquisition of English. The history of bilingual education is one characterized by controversy and wavering support for the use of two languages in public schools. Modern debates focus on whether demographic trends that are making the U.S. more diverse indicate the need for more or less native language support in the classroom. An important factor in deciding this question is whether bilingual programs are more effective than English Only programs in raising student academic achievement.
Keywords Bilingualism; Developmental Bilingual Education; Dual Language Immersion; English Language Learners; English Only; Linguistically Different Learners; Transitional Bilingual Education; Heritage Language; Sheltered Content Instruction.
The education of "bilingual" students in the U.S. has always been closely tied to political, economic and social concerns. As a nation of immigrants, the U.S. was founded by colonists from multiple language backgrounds and nationalities. While early private schools were quickly established to teach colonial children, schools were generally segregated by communities so that students studied in their native languages (Brisk, 1998). As immigrant communities (mainly from Europe) vied for political and economic power in the new world, language and nationality differences raised tensions between neighbors. This in turn led to calls for new immigrants to assimilate by learning the language and customs of earlier arrivals.