Review of English Education Policy for Language Minority Students in the United States: A Critical Race Theory Perspective

Article excerpt


Despite the successful image of Asian Americans, racism, discrimination, and a sense of alienation still deeply impact Asian Americans' lives today. How these problems are expressed and perceived, as well as how they affect these individuals, varies among different Asian American groups. For example, the Asian American student population is not a homogeneously successful group as it is generally portrayed to be. The students come from various socioeconomic, linguistic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, and there are many of them who do not fall into the high-achiever category.

Asian American Language Minority Students

One of the Asian American student populations that deserves more attention is language minority students who are also classified as English Language Learners (ELLs) or Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Although bilingual education and special English programs are often considered as an issue only for Latino students, there are many Asian American students who are recent immigrants and English learners. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2003, the number of school-age Asian/Pacific Islander students age five to seventeen who spoke a language other than English at home was 1.2 million, which is 64.7 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Also, 18.2 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students experienced difficulty with English whereas only 1 percent of both White-alone and Black-alone and 21 percent of Hispanic children had the same problem (U.S. Department of Education 2005, 115; 2005). Considering the number the Department of Education provides is more conservative than that of other reports, the actual number of Asian American students who have difficulty with English could be even greater. (1)

Many of these language minority students are also likely to be recent immigrants, and they may be more prone to racial discrimination and alienation because they are not as consciously aware of the racial problems they encounter. For example, compared to second-generation Hmong immigrant students, 1.5-generation (2) Hmong immigrant students are less aware of racism in school and are more likely to believe that hard work in school will help them achieve the American dream (Lee 2001). Even if they are aware of racism, with limited understanding of culture and English ability, they do not know how to resist it and are more likely to suffer from racial discrimination and alienation.

An important aspect that needs more careful evaluation in order to understand these students' lives is the educational policy, especially the English education policy for language minority students in the United States, which mandates with what program and how these students should be educated. The educational policy for LEP students, who are more likely to be recent immigrants, is tightly linked to the social, economic, and political climate of the nation, and it often speaks to the general public's attitude toward newcomers. This leaves language minority students vulnerable in terms of getting quality educational experiences in school, and these experiences will affect how they understand the American life and develop their sense of personal and cultural identities. However, what these students face in school and the challenges they go through under the current English educational policy are often neglected. Instead, because of the model minority image of Asian American students, the Asian American language minority students often do not receive the attention and assistance that they need.

In this article, I examine how the current English education mandate has been developed and in what context it has been changed, and for what purpose, from a Critical Race Theory (CRT) perspective. I begin with a brief review of the history of English education policy for language minority students in the United States. I then examine how CRT can be used to evaluate English education mandates such as Proposition 227 (described later) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and why understanding these policies in racial context is necessary. …