Our school systems play host to dozens of languages in addition to the standard fare of English. Starting in the late 1960s, partially as a swing off the Civil Rights Movement, school systems were required by law to provide bilingual education anytime twenty or more children spoke the same foreign language, and were found to be limited in their English proficiency. At first, the need for such programs was small, but over time it has been steadily increasing until now where the need has reached what many consider to be massive. In recent years, the population of the United States has exploded with many non-English speaking students, making the need for bilingual education more urgent. Although this amount is growing yearly, it is inadequate to provide the much needed instruction for this special subset of children. Bilingual education is a must if children are to succeed in the academic environment and in becoming productive adults.
Numerous researchers have reported a correlation between a student’s world experience and their level of reading comprehension. Often times stories and reading material are written from a largely white perspective and this results in less overall comprehension and poor reading scores especially for the Limited English Proficient student. Bilingual programs allow such children the opportunity to become acquainted with the concepts first in their own language and then in the predominant language of this country, English. Linguists have found that the strongest way to learn a language is to have a strong base in one's native language. A child who has learned to write and read in the native language will build strong language skills. Statistics show that that the average language-minority child who is not given bilingual education is more likely to be held back one or more years in their elementary school education, and there is a direct correlation between the dropout rate, and non-receipt of bilingual education.
As with practically any academic pursuit, a student’s success or failure in reading comprehension is highly dependent it seems on their cultural background. On the language in which classroom materials are both written and spoken in, the student’s proficiency in both their first and second languages, and on the cultural content of the classroom materials. Likewise, a student’s attitude and motivation plays a very important part in their success in learning a second language. Students with more positive attitudes towards the people, and the culture they are being integrated into are more successful. In Richard Rodriguez’s essay entitled “ARIA,” he explains “What I needed to learn in school was that I had the right- and the obligation- to speak the public language of los gringos.”(Rodriguez 531) When comfortable that they have the right to learn another language, students gain the positive attitude, as well as the self esteem that is so badly needed to succeed.