Education Policy: Research: Historical Overview: Bush, GHW:

Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009

The George H.W. Bush Years: Common Standards and English Language Learners

The meaning of common standards and assessments was also challenging for English language learners. The focus on improving instructional programs coincided with a rather sudden withdrawal of financial support from bilingual programs, the "outcomes" of which had become a subject of widespread debate. As early as 1988, as part of the Hawkins-Stafford amendments, Augustus Hawkins (the African-American chair of the House Education and Labor Committee) agreed, under pressure from the Reagan administration, to increase the proportion of "alternative" programs (i.e., immersion or English-Only programs) permissible under the law from 4 percent to 25 percent of the total. He also agreed to limit the time a student could remain in a bilingual program to three years (except in extraordinary cases, when the limit was extended to five years). So, even while the Hawkins-Stafford amendments directed more money to low-achieving schools, non-English-speaking students in those schools were often forced into English-Only classes.


Over the next decade, as the standards movement gained momentum and standardized tests came to dominate the assessment of schools, non-English-speaking pupils faced increasing pressure to show high scores on English exams. The National Academy of Education warned that a heavy reliance on standardized test scores might skew the work of teaching, but, by the late 1980s, political pressure to show accountability through test scores was becoming inescapable. Despite the Academy's caution "a) that future assessments, limited in the competencies they measure, might come 'to exercise an influence on our schools that exceeds their scope and true merit,' and b) that 'simple comparisons are ripe for abuse and are unlikely to inform meaningful school improvement efforts'," public demand for "results" was overwhelming. The complexities of testing policies for disabled, limited-English-speaking, and other students with special circumstances did not weaken this demand.


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