The Bilingual Education Act and No Child Left Behind

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed in 2002, had a significant impact on bilingual education and the Bilingual Education Act in the United States due to its emphasis on high-stakes testing. As a result of NCLB and its emphasis on testing, the Bilingual Education Act was renamed the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act.

The name change alone of BEA under NCLB is significant in that it signals a shift in the philosophical approach to bilingual education. Essentially, even though the act still leaves with state and local educators the ability to choose from instructional methods, "the statement of purpose and accountability requirements make clear that the primary objective is English acquisition."

Under NCLB, school success and failure is linked to performance on standardized tests. However, this measure subjects English Language Learners (ELLs) "to critical assessments without adequate preparation." The lack of preparation is due to the fact that NCLB caps funding for bilingual education programs at half of what it had been and does not require that any bilingual education programs undergo periodic evaluation, a measure required by the Castenada v. Pickard court case. And yet, despite this lack of preparation, ELLs performance on standardized tests can jeopardize a school's access to funding. In essence, "This turns the question of whether or not a school receives a failing label into a question of how many ELLs attend." Because the impact of NCLB on ELLs has significant implications on ELLs and their communities' access to education, NCLB is in conflict with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in that it denies "access to a federally funded program based on their skin color or race." The changes in the BEA under NCLB created a grant program that attempted to enhance English language acquisition. The ruling placed ELL students in a similar classroom environment as their peers for whom English is not a second language. The law did not require schools to provide bilingual programs and placed them against the rigorous content standards put in place by State Education Agencies. When ELLs were tested with the same state assessments or the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), it was shown that compared to their fluently English-speaking peers the ELL students displayed larger deficits in both reading and math. The 2007 NAEP test, showed increased deficits in both math and reading following a surge of the ELL population in the United States. By 2005 the number of English-learners throughout the US had risen to 57% to approximately 5.1 million students.

After NCLB was enacted it was shown that there were sufficient numbers of prospective teachers, yet there were insufficient numbers of these teachers entering certain fields. Among these specializations were science, math, foreign languages, special education and namely bilingual education. Several initiatives formed to specifically recruit teachers to these specialization fields and allowed for alternative certification paths. These teacher shortages continue to exist today and are seen to a greater extent in high-poverty districts.

The act and NCLB say that the accommodations that it provides should be interpreted in concordance with federal civil rights laws. "As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, and federal civil rights officials, these provisions rely on terms like "affirmative steps" and "appropriate action" that give school districts the discretion to use a range of instructional approaches. As a result, under both Title VI and the EEOA, courts and federal enforcement agencies must decide on a case-by-case basis whether programs are in fact overcoming linguistic barriers to full participation." The policy still remains highly debated at both the state and federal level.