What counts as bilingual education policy?

In a 2005 article one of my mentors Jean Anyon asked the question: what counts as educational policy? She pointed to the limits of traditional approaches to educational policy that focus solely on issues explicitly related to schooling. She argued that this narrow focus leaves unaddressed larger political and economic inequities that impact the academic achievement of students from racialized communities. She called for a new paradigm of educational policy that includes policies that address these larger political and economic inequities such as a living wage laws, affordable housing policies and economic investment in low-income communities.

Using her work as my inspiration I would like to ask a follow-up question: what counts as bilingual education policy? What usually counts as bilingual education policy are policies that explicitly address issues of bilingualism. This includes policies for equalizing the status of English and the minoritized language, policies for how the two languages will be used in instruction and policies for how students will be assessed to monitor their bilingual development. This work has been extremely important in developing high quality bilingual education programs. It has illustrated that the most effective bilingual education programs are those that seek to develop both the minoritized language and English and have a clearly articulated language allocation policy that is aligned with the goal of bilingual language and literacy development.

Following Anyon’s lead I propose that we broaden notions of what counts as bilingual education policy beyond this narrow focus on bilingualism. I am not suggesting that we ignore issues of bilingualism as to do so would undermine the quality of bilingual education programs. Instead, I am suggesting that we expand what counts as bilingual education policy beyond a sole focus on bilingualism to include the larger macro-economic policies that impact the lives of racialized communities. In this way, bilingual education programs can be positioned as part of a larger social transformation that addresses the poverty and institutional racism that are the root cause of the marginalization of these communities.

This new paradigm of bilingual education policy begins from the premise that bilingual education policy can only be socially transformative when situated within a comprehensive approach to community transformation that addresses the root causes of racial inequalities in US society. It acknowledges that the inequities reproduced in bilingual classrooms cannot be addressed solely at the programmatic level but must be addressed by the adoption of more equitable public policy at the local, state, national and international level. In short, this new paradigm of bilingual education policy does not celebrate bilingual education for bilingual education’s sake but instead only embraces bilingual education as part of a struggle against poverty and institutional racism.

In this new paradigm bilingual education policy would include advocacy for fully-funded community schools that serve all of the students who reside in the neighborhood where the school is located. Bilingual education policy in low-income neighborhoods would include a comprehensive revitalization of these neighborhoods that include job creation policies. Bilingual education policy in affluent and gentrifying neighborhoods would include effort to create mixed-income neighborhoods through the development of affordable housing. And bilingual education policy would include comprehensive affirmative action policies that ensure equitable access racialized communities to jobs that require bilingual competencies.

One may object that many of these policies would best be left to economists leaving issues of curriculum and pedagogy to bilingual educators. Yet, many of the challenges confronted by bilingual educators are a direct consequence of these larger political and economic issues. Bilingual teachers will continue to struggle to increase the status of minoritized languages as long as U.S. society continues to marginalize racialized communities. Assessment policies will never be equitable until the cultural knowledge of racialized communities have institutional value. And even the most effective bilingual education program will do little good for students from racialized communities who are forced to live in segregated low-income communities with a lack of jobs that offer a living wage. Until all of these factors count as bilingual education policy, advocacy for these programs will do little to challenge the status quo.

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