Bilingual Education


ANNCR: Bilingual Education, a work in progress – Today on Congressional Moment

By the time the 13 British colonies declared their independence, over two million people had immigrated across the ocean from Europe.

Many were British, but many more were from other countries, and spoke other languages. It was not long before bilingual education became an issue. By the mid 1800s, various states were conducting classes in languages such as French, German, Dutch and Greek.

(French phrase fades in and out, into German)

Non English-speaking students received some protection under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, ratified in 1868, and over a hundred years later, in 1968, the Bilingual Education Act was created.

It was the first official federal legislation recognizing the specific needs of students with limited English-speaking ability. It gave assistance to many local districts to establish bilingual education programs.

During the 1980s and 90s, Congress amended the Act several times, reflecting new challenges, changing priorities and new teaching techniques. The issue was, and still is, hotly debated at the grass roots level, with children coming to our schools speaking more than 200 languages.

Congress continues to wrestle with the important issue of how best to help students from non-English speaking families move into the mainstream of American life. The Bilingual Education Act is clearly a work-in-progress, and related issues are likely to be found in the media and on the ballots for many years to come.

STANDARD CLOSING: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works, or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress website at