Education

District Administrator Calls for Illinois to End Bilingual Ed. Mandate

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 13, 2009 2 min read

Illinois’ requirement for school districts to offer bilingual education is hurting English-language learners, argues Anne Swanson, an assistant superintendent for the Woodland Community Consolidated School District in Illinois, in a paper released this month by the Lexington Institute. “Use of native-language instruction should be permissive and not mandatory,” she writes.

And the Illinois Association of School Boards apparently agrees with her. Ben Schwarm, the associate executive director for that organization, writes in a preface to the paper that his organization passed a resolution last year saying it would ask the state legislature to make bilingual education optional. But he told me this week that the association never made that request because other issues took a higher priority.

For more than 30 years, the state’s education code has said districts have to offer bilingual education if a school has 20 or more ELLs who speak the same language.

In her school district, Swanson says, “bilingual requirements create ethnically and economically segregated classrooms.” She says that because of their numbers, Spanish-speaking students end up being the only students in bilingual education.

She says that the Hispanic ELLs in the district aren’t performing as well on state tests as ELLs who speak other native languages and take English-as-a-second-language classes. In K-2, ELLs get about 30 minutes of ESL a day; in grades 3-9, they get 50-90 minutes of ESL.

Part of the problem with bilingual education, she says, is that the district cannot find enough bilingual teachers who are well-qualified.

Matthew Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois state board of education, responded in an e-mail to Swanson’s paper by stressing that while school districts must offer bilingual education if they have a critical mass of students who speak the same language, they may choose from a number of “proven program models.” He added, “The amount of native-language instruction provided may vary based upon the English-language-proficiency level of each student.”

You may remember that the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based organization that is generally against bilingual education, released a paper previously written by another Illinois administrator who said that bilingual education wasn’t working in his school district. That administrator also felt the state should do away with the mandate.

Is there anyone else out there in Illinois who wants to make this case?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.