Bilingual Education is defined as any school program that uses two languages. In a more theoretical sense it is any educational program whose ultimate goal is for the participants to be fully versed in all facets of both languages, able to listen, speak , read, and write in both languages. The definition of a coordinated, developmental bilingual approach has emphasized the goal of being equally fluid in both languages. Realistically, this has not been the goal for most K-12 bilingual schools in the United States. More commonly in the United States we are using the words "bilingual program" to describe a program that will provide literacy and content in the primary language, while building English fluency, to the point where all instruction will occur in English. These programs are label transitional bilingual programs as their ultimate goal is to transition all students into an English only learning arena. .
One of the down sides of these programs is that they are not maintenance bilingual programs which are designed to preserve and develop student's primary language while they acquire English as a second language. All bilingual program models use the students' home language, in addition to English, for instruction. These programs are most easily implemented in districts with a large number of students from the same language background. Students in bilingual programs are grouped according to their first language, and teachers must be proficient in both English and the students' home language. Early-exit bilingual programs are designed to help children acquire the English skills required to succeed in an English-only mainstream classroom. These programs provide some initial instruction in the students' first language, primarily for the introduction of reading, but also for clarification. Instruction in the first language is phased out rapidly, with most students mainstreamed by the end of first or second grade.