Chapter 15: Advocating for English Learners
By James Crawford

Changing Political Currents
Impact of Public Attitudes
Conflicting Opinion Surveys
Racism or Ignorance?
Media Bias
Advocacy Imbalance
Legal Challenge to English Only
Disputed Outcomes in California
Proposition 227 in the Classroom
Educators and Advocacy

In its 34 years of existence, the Bilingual Education Act enjoyed consistent support from liberal Democrats, who controlled Congress for most of that period, and from Latino legislators regardless of party affiliation. Although the idea of teaching in two languages was widely misunderstood and often unpopular, bilingual education not only survived but expanded in a climate of political adversity. Many local officials were won over on nonpolitical grounds, after witnessing the outcomes of well designed bilingual programs. But it was powerful allies in places like Washington, Sacramento, Austin, and Albany who kept federal and state subsidies flowing. These resources proved crucial to program design and professional training. Title VII, in particular, was instrumental in developing expertise and leadership for a field that barely existed in 1968.

So, in 2002, when Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), reversing a generation of policies on educating English learners, the acquiescence of liberal Democrats was unprecedented. More remarkable still was the role of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Bilingual Education Act was repealed with hardly a murmur of dissent – and not a single attempt to amend the bill – by Latino members of Congress, every one of whom voted for NCLB. What’s more, they did so with the explicit approval of Hispanic advocacy groups. Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, issued a statement praising lawmakers for their “statesmanship” in reaching a bipartisan compromise on English learner programs.

Even the National Association for Bilingual Education portrayed the final outcome as a victory, after lobbying successfully to increase funding levels and to remove provisions restricting native-language instruction. Executive director Delia Pompa went so far as to assert: “Through this legislation, Congress has strengthened the core of bilingual programs – which have as their mission ensuring that ALL students, regardless of their native tongue have a chance to succeed academically.” NABE’s enthusiastic statements about NCLB made no mention of the demise of Title VII, an outcome that all participants in the process seemed to regard as inevitable.

Thus a longstanding federal policy of supporting bilingual education, strongly reiterated in 1994, proved politically unsustainable just eight years later. Advocates for Title VII and their Congressional allies made some efforts at damage control, but effectively they surrendered without a fight. Not a single legislative hearing was held to consider the consequences, even during the second half of 2001, when Democrats controlled the Senate. Before most stakeholders learned about the backroom deal-making, a system that had served English learners well for more than three decades was dismantled. How did this come to pass? What are the implications for the future of language-minority programs? How should professionals in the field respond?

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