Policy Brief

Bilingual Education

Reading, Writing & Rhetoric


Obscured in the political rhetoric is the term bilingual education. What constitutes bilingual education instruction? The various sides of the debate clutch to their anecdotal and empirical evidence that definitively proves that bilingual education is either a rousing success or a dismal failure. Estimates of the expenditures on providing special services range from not-nearly-sufficient to an extraordinary and growing burden on state and local resources.

Can both sides of the argument be correct in their assertions?

What is clear in the debate is the need to meet the special circumstances of this diverse and growing population.1 Both bilingual education proponents and opponents agree that accountability in the current system is almost nonexistent. Both sides agree that poorly implemented programs are resulting in the failure to provide a meaningful education to these students.

This policy brief provides a brief overview of:

  • the status of limited-English proficient students;
  • the nature and definition of services being administered;
  • the policies that govern how these students are served; and
  • a synopsis of research evaluating the effectiveness of special instructional services provided to LEP students with an emphasis on California.

The purpose is not a pedagogical endorsement of one form of instruction over another. Rather, the purpose is to provide an objective understanding of the issues for sound policymaking at the local, state, and federal levels, and by parents concerned about the nature of services being provided to their children.


Richard C. Seder is the director of education studies for Reason Public Policy Institute, a national public policy research organization. Mr. Seder has done extensive work in the area of quantitative and qualitative research on the structure of educational systems; school choice programs; accountability issues; and the impact of expenditures on student achievement. Before joining RPPI, Mr. Seder worked as a research assistant to the executive director for the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., where he assisted in a study analyzing the relationship between public and private post-secondary institutions in three states. Prior to that, he was the recipient of a Charles G. Koch Fellowship through the Center of Market Processes examining the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy. Additionally, Mr. Seder has served as a project director for the Allegheny County School System Project in Pennsylvania, where he conducted extensive research on 43 public school districts. Mr. Seder holds a Masters of Science in Public Policy and Management from the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh as well as a double bachelors degree in Government and Economics from Beloit College in Wisconsin.