The Need for Bilingual Education in Texas Today

AUTHOR: Trish Flores, Coordinator, Curriculum and Instruction

Bilingual education is a high needs area felt by many school districts across the country.  In particular, it is a high needs area for Texas due to the increase of second language learners migrating to this area of the country. Many people may ask themselves, why do we need to provide bilingual education for these students?  What do students gain from participating in this “type” of instruction?  And how does it really support students in meeting today’s high stake assessments?  To answer these questions and many more, it is necessary to start by investigating what bilingual education is and why we need to make it accessible to students.

Background:  How language programs became a law

Before 1968, bilingual education was not required to be implemented in schools but instead was a voluntary program.  This all changed in 1981 when a lawsuit was brought against the state of Texas resulting  in the requirement of bilingual education programs in the elementary grades, English as a second language (ESL) or bilingual programs at post-elementary grades through eighth grade, and ESL programs in high school.  The new legislation also outlined specific procedures for the identification and exiting of students.

What is Bilingual education?

Bilingual education is teaching academic content through two languages, the native language and a secondary language, with varying degrees of support that are commensurate with the student’s proficiency levels in both languages.  Instructing students through the use of their native language enables them to access new content and build upon what they already know.  Students will be successful in “bridging” ideas and information from one language to the next when the content and processes are first mastered in the native language.  Throughout these interactions, students are learning English in a non-stressful environment leading to individuals who are able to meet the academic rigor of today’s standards and assessments.

Benefits of Bilingual Education

There are many benefits that student’s gain from participating in bilingual programs.  They include:

  • Cognitive Ability: Students are able to enhance brain flexibility in the areas of mathematics, logic, reasoning and problem solving.
  • Social/Emotional:  Students who participate in bilingual programs have a higher level of self-esteem than students who do not because Spanish if valued.
  • Educational Advancement:  Studies have shown that it takes 5-7 years to acquire academic English. If a student is not in a bilingual program they are more likely to miss critical instruction due to their inability to process content presented in English.
  • Family:  Students who retain their native language are able to communicate with family members thus resulting positive relationships.
  • Health:  Increased brain activity has been shown to decrease the onset of dementia and other debilitating brain diseases.  Students who are bilingual have increased brain activity as they navigate between two languages.

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Bilingual education is required by the state of Texas as means to educate students whose first language is not English.  Countless studies have shown the effectiveness of language programs for students.  It is imperative that the educators and communities in Texas see these benefits as gains not only for the students and their families, but for the future of Texas as a whole.

Originally published on VOXXI as Bilingual education: Why gutting it hurts us all

©2008, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. –


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