Does NCLB Promote Monolingualism?
Eight years into the No Child Left Behind Act, educators, researchers, and advocates remain locked in heated debate over the effects of the law’s testing and accountability mandates on students, many from immigrant homes where a language other than English is spoken. Remarkably lost in the crossfire are the equally serious implications for the nation and its competitive position internationally.
Two recently reported developments related to language instruction, set against rising multilingualism abroad, lend truth to that proposition. Together, they reveal that NCLB is an impediment to fostering bilingual skills and bicultural understandings, especially among the nation’s 12 million students from immigrant families, including the 5.1 million identified as English-language learners, as well as millions of English-dominant students who are economically disadvantaged.
The first of these developments has surfaced in the Obama administration’s proposed English Learning Education Program, with an $800 million commitment tucked into the president’s budget plan for fiscal 2011. The proposal, as laid out by Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Thelma Melendez in a speech before bilingual educators in February, is a disheartening mix of more of the same peppered with hopeful hints of a changed vision. And yet, though threaded through with continued talk of testing and “rigorous” standards, it nonetheless conveys a long-overdue message that the bilingual potential of English-language learners, or ELLs, is a national asset, rather than a...
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