Texas and Bilingual Education: An Early Pioneer

Texas is one of only four states currently requiring bilingual education.

Texas is one of only four states currently requiring bilingual education. The other three states are Illinois, New Jersey, and New York. Many consider Texas an early pioneer in bilingual education since it started some bilingual programming as far back as 1968. Bilingual education really began in Texas in 1973, with enactment of the Bilingual Education and Training Act, which mandated that all Texas public elementary schools enrolling 20 or more children of limited English ability in a given grade level provide bilingual instruction. This eliminated the English-only teaching requirement, which was then in effect.

In Texas law, bilingual education is defined as “a full-time program of dual-language instruction that provides for learning basic skills in the primary language of the students enrolled in the program” and “incorporates the cultural aspects of the students’ backgrounds.” The Act asserts the superiority of native-tongue instruction and requires the districts affected to offer: a bilingual education program in elementary school beginning with kindergarten; a choice of bilingual education, instruction in English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL), or other transitional language instruction approved by the agency in middle school; and, English-as-a-Second-Language in grades 9 through 12.

Bilingual education is usually defined as instruction in which students learn to read and write in the native tongue while gradually transitioning to English. In 2009 the Texas Public Policy Foundation on bilingual education put forth this definition: “Bilingual education is instruction provided to students in their native tongue in all subjects in a self-contained classroom with other students who speak the same language. The students are also taught English, typically by their bilingual education teacher.”

There are ongoing discussions about the best method of instruction for English Learners. Some policymakers prefer the Texan approach while others look to the state of California which offers instruction to English Learners in three different types of settings: Structured English Immersion (SEI); English Language Mainstream (ELM); or, Alt, the alternative program. The bottom line is for these students—wherever they reside—to learn English so they can succeed in school and beyond.

There are ongoing discussions about the best method of instruction for English Learners. Some policymakers prefer the Texan approach while others look to the state of California which offers instruction to English Learners in three different types of settings: Structured English Immersion (SEI); English Language Mainstream (ELM); or, Alt, the alternative program. The bottom line is for these students—wherever they reside—to learn English so they can succeed in school and beyond.

Find more information about Bilingual Education in Texas and a list of resources for ELL support in Texas.

Katherine Del MonteTexas and Bilingual Education: An Early Pioneer