Where It is Now, and What is Still Needed
Albert Cortez, Ph.D., and Roy L. Johnson, M.S.
Background – Programs Become Required for Serving LEP Students in Texas
The state of Texas was an early pioneer in providing academic instruction to children using their native language while simultaneously developing proficiency in English. In 1968, then State Representative Joe Bernal of San Antonio championed a state law removing a prohibition that was in place at the time and allowing for voluntary local implementation of bilingual programs in Texas schools.
Affecting schools across the country in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that simply providing the same all-English program to limited-English-proficient (LEP) and to non-LEP students violated federal requirements relating to equal educational opportunity, setting the stage for new approaches in states around the country.
In 1981, in a successful lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), plaintiffs challenged the state of Texas’ efforts to offset the effects of past discrimination against Mexican Americans by merely making programs voluntary. As a result of that litigation, the state revised the mandate and required school systems to offer bilingual education programs in elementary grades, English as a second language (ESL) or bilingual programs at post-elementary grades through eighth grade, and ESL programs in high school. This revised state law (SB 477) was authored by State Senator Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi and co-sponsored by State Representative Matt García of San Antonio. The new legislation also prescribed uniform procedures for student identification and placement, established exit criteria for students to be transitioned out of the mandated program, and slightly increased state funding based on numbers of LEP students served. No major changes were incorporated into the program over the ensuing decade.
This summer, however, a federal district court ordered the state to improve its monitoring of programs serving LEP students and to improve LEP programs at the middle and high school levels. The ruling points out that high schools and middle schools in Texas are losing English language learners at twice the rate of other students. See the article entitled "Texas Education Policy Prospects for 2009" for more about upcoming policy debates.
In addition, in October, at the annual Texas Association for Bilingual Education conference, IDRA’s president and CEO, María "Cuca" Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., presented a research-based preliminary framework that provides guidance for design, implementation and evaluation of an effective ELL program (see "Presenting IDRA's Framework for Effective Instruction of Secondary English Language Learners").
An Increasing Need in Texas
The number of pupils identified as LEP has increased steadily over the last 26 years since the program was mandated in Texas. In 1975, the state of Texas reported a total LEP enrollment of about 25,000 students. The LEP count had grown to more than 425,000 students by 1993-94 and to 775,432 pupils in 2007-08. The table in the box below reports LEP enrollment in Texas schools from 1993-94 to 2007-08, reflecting a steady increase in that student population over time.
Over this recent period, LEP enrollments have constituted an ever increasing proportion of the state’s public school population accounting for 11.8 percent of the total number of students in 1993-94 and 16.6 percent in 2007-08. Cumulatively, this represents a LEP student increase of 349,492, or a 82.1 percent gain in a 14-year span – a growth rate that far exceeds the overall growth in state enrollments in PK-12.
Historical data for the years 1995 through 2008 reveal that LEP pupils in Texas have historically been concentrated at the lower elementary grades, with LEP counts and percentages decreasing notably after third grade. In fact, in 2007-08, 61 percent of all Texas LEP pupils were enrolled in grades PK-3. LEP enrollments at grades 4 through 6 accounted for 20.3 percent of LEP pupils.
LEP concentrations at the middle and high school levels (7 to 12) accounted for only 18.7 percent of all Texas LEP students in any one year. On the other hand, that percentage converts to more than 145,000 pupils. This trend is reflected in LEP grade level distributions for 2007-08 summarized in the box below.
This trend of decreasing LEP student counts as one goes up the grade levels, documented in the state’s tracking study of LEP student status over time, occurs in large part because LEP students tend to be transitioned out of bilingual programs after an average of three years or less. Immigrant pupils only account for 13 percent of Texas LEP enrollments in grades PK to 12, reflecting that the issue is not one limited to recent immigrant students.
Texas ESL Program Requirements
At the middle school level, bilingual programs or ESL programs may be implemented as a local option. In the high school grades, however, ESL is the required program. According to Texas Education Agency data, more than 230,000 LEP pupils in grades PK-12 were served using ESL programs.
Texas is one of a handful of states that requires school districts to implement bilingual or ESL programs for its LEP students, more commonly referred as "English language learners" in many other states around the country. A major factor accounting for its continuation is that the elementary program has been found to be effective both in helping students learn sufficient English to transition to the all-English curriculum and because students served in the program for the most part perform at acceptable levels on state academic assessments. The track record of the ESL program required at the secondary level however has been far less than impressive.
What Is Still Needed
While the program has persisted, few bilingual education advocates would propose that all areas of the program are acceptable. One long-standing issue involves persistent shortages of bilingual education certified teachers. In 2006, the Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) reported that, in that year, 867 teachers working in bilingual classes lacked required certification (2007). Assuming an average class load of 20 pupils, this means that as many as 17,300 LEP pupils were served by less than fully qualified staff. This number does not include teachers enrolled in alternative certification programs or substitute teachers working with LEP students. Persistent shortages of fully qualified staff have led to the area being classified as a critical shortage area.
Efforts to increase the bilingual and ESL teacher pool have ranged from providing federally subsidized stipends to encourage more teacher candidates to enter the field, to local efforts designed to encourage high school graduates to pursue bilingual education or ESL certification – also known as "grow your own programs." A third strategy used in a few states attempts to recruit teachers from other countries that may have the teaching credentials and language skills needed. A caveat in such efforts has been the recognized need to educate non-U.S. trained educators about the philosophy and framework under-girding the U.S. education system (that all students have a right to a public education, that differing languages and cultures are valued, that parents play a central, critical role in the education of their children, that schools belong primarily to the communities they serve, etc.), which in some cases are very distinct from countries where public education is primarily directed from the national level.
A second important issue impacting program operations has involved the funding provided to schools to implement the specialized services required for these LEP pupils. While the state program provides supplemental targeted funding for schools serving LEP students, the funding levels have long been recognized as less than what is needed to provide appropriate services (Robledo and Cortez, 2008). The result has been either implementation of programs that are extensively subsidized by local tax revenues, or absent those subsidies efforts that are operated at less than optimum, underfunded, levels.
Studies dating back to the 1970 estimate bilingual program funding needs to be about 30 percent to 40 percent over those provided to regular program pupils. Additional research notes that actual add-on costs can vary by type of instructional model used, with higher costs associated with strategies that use extra teachers to provide specialized instruction, in contrast to those programs that use bilingual or ESL certified teachers in self contained classrooms. Texas currently provides a 10 percent add-on funding for its bilingual and ESL programs.
A related issue involves the extent of inclusion or test accommodation provided to LEP students in state assessment systems and especially those assessments tied into the state and more recently adopted federal school accountability systems. Concerns about the impact of LEP performance on school and district ratings have led to an increasing push to exempt some LEP pupils from accountability systems or provide for other mechanisms that lessen the effects of LEP performance on school and district ratings.
Another emerging issue is the potential competition for teaching and fiscal resources from local enrichment language programs that include non-LEP students and the mandated programs that are essential to ensuring that those students with the most need have access to all the resources needed to address civil rights based concerns. The tensions between complying with civil rights and access to instruction requirements for LEP students and accommodating non-LEP pupils who simply want to develop skills in a second language could be ameliorated if the state greatly expanded the bilingual teacher pool and provided substantial increases in state funding. Until such time, legal experts would contend that students requiring bilingual programs to simply have access to comprehensible instruction should get first priority.
Cárdenas, J.A. Multicultural Education: A Generation of Advocacy (Needham Heights, Mass.: Simon and Schuster Custom Publishing, 1995).
483 F2d 791 (9th Cir 1973) 412 US 938 (1973).
Robledo Montecel, M., & Cortez, A. (in press). "The Cost of Bilingual Education: What We Know and What is Needed," Encyclopedia on Bilingual Education (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications).
Texas Education Agency. Enrollment in Texas Public Schools. Table 10. Enrollment for Instructional Programs and Special Populations, Texas Public Schools 1995-96 through 2005-06 (Austin, Texas: TEA).
Texas Education Agency. Enrollment in Texas Public Schools. Table 2. Statewide Enrollment, Texas Public Schools, 1987-88 through 2005-06 (Austin, Texas: TEA).
Texas Education Agency. Academic Achievement of Elementary Students with Limited English Proficiency. In Texas Public Schools. Report Number 10, January 1998. Office of Policy Planning (Austin, Texas: TEA, 1998).
Memorandum of Opinion, Civil Action 5281. (E.D. Tex. 1971). Motion to Enforce Civil Action 5281. 1981.
Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is director of IDRA Policy. Roy L. Johnson is director of IDRA Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at
LEP Student Enrollment and Total Student Enrollment in Texas, 1993-94 to 2007-08
Total Texas Public School Enrollment
LEP as Percent of Total Enrollment
Texas LEP Student Grade Level Distribution – 2007-08
LEP Student Identified
Percent of LEP Total Identified
Cumulative Percent of LEP Total Identified
[©2008, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]