Half-and-half approach to language approved
EDUCATION secretary Richard Riley has called for a fourfold increase in the number of schools using a dual-language approach to bilingual education within five years.
The so-called "dual language" method - also sometimes referred to as "two-way bilingual" or "dual immersion" - involves simultaneously teaching English to immigrants and a foreign language to their English-speaking classmates.
Increased immigration has meant that demand outstrips supply in many areas of the United States.
The classes typically have an even mix of students who speak English as their native tongue and students who speak another language. Students are taught about half in each language. The goal is for them to become proficient in both.
"I think that it is high time we began to treat language skills as the asset they are, particularly n this global economy," the education secretary said in a major speech on Hispanic schooling.
"Anything that encourages a person to know more than one language should be treated as positive."
The dual-language approach was introduced in a Miami suburb after a wave of Cuban immigration in the early 1960s.
It is now used in 261 schools in 23 of the 50 states, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics. Of those schools, 240 use the method to teach Spanish-speaking students.
Mr Riley's call for the boost to dual-language teaching was applauded by bilingual education groups.
But there was a more cautious response from organisations that have pressed for more effective English-language instruction. They have complained that it is impossible for English-speaking residents to communicate with many of their neighbours.