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Bilingual Education: The Promise Of Dual Language Programs For Spanish-Speaking Kids

During much of the 20th century, many public school districts systemically attempted to obliterate the language—at least among Hispanics, who were at times barred from speaking Spanish at school and brutally punished for even minor missteps.

With the passage of the Bilingual Education Act in 1968 and other developments during that decade, Spanish speakers were, for the most part, no longer punished. But many bilingual programs still aimed to teach students English as quickly as possible, with too little priority on maintaining Hispanics’ native language. Truly “bilingual education”—which aims to help students become, and stay, fluent in multiple languages—was too often perceived as a luxury only privileged native English speakers could afford.

Sensing this prejudice and the obstacles their children faced without a working knowledge of English, many Hispanic families preferred bilingual programs that prioritized English instruction above all else. And some remained skeptical of dual language programs’ emphasis on Spanish, which middle-class, English-speaking parents began to embrace in the 1980s.