Over the course of time, major laws, policy documents and landmark decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other federal and state courts regarding bilingual education have shaped educational policy in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, a response to Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), established the constitutional basis for the educational rights of language minority students. Within a decade, Title VI Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs. Subsequently cited in many court cases, it basically stated that a student has a right to meaningful and effective instruction. In 1974 the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the 1970 Memorandum regarding denial of access and participation in an educational program due to inability to speak or understand English. This action was the result of the Lau vs. Nichols class action suit brought by Chinese speaking students in San Francisco against the school district in 1974. “There is no equality of treatment by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum, for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.” The memorandum further affirmed that “Basic English skills are at the very core of what public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education” (Lau vs. Nichols, 1974).
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In accordance with what are known as the Lau Remedies, in 1975 the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) established some basic guidelines for schools with Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Although there has been much change in terms of public policy, the ultimate challenge of implementation rests upon the teacher.
Throughout the United States public school teachers are challenged to meet the needs of an ever-increasing number of English-language learner (ELL) population. By the turn of this last century, the population of students identified as limited English proficient (LEP) has grown exponentially. From 1995 to 2001 alone, the LEP population grew approximately 105% nationwide (Kindler, 2002). According to recent estimates there are 4.5 million LEP students are currently enrolled in K-12 public schools in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate a continued trend of linguistic diversification in the years ahead (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Due to a linguistic shift the student population is experiencing, the educational community has had to fix its focus upon multilingual classrooms, and research set in multilingual classrooms has risen in importance. While there are “specialists” who work with limited or non-English speaking students initially, the student’s integration into a multilingual i.e. “mainstream” classroom is essential. Hence, teacher attitudes are an important consideration in terms of relevant professional preparation.
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