Federal language education legislation has only come about in the last 50 years and has largely focused on teaching English to non-English speaking students. While federal initiatives have largely broadened instructional options for ELLs, some states have responded with their own English-only laws. However, the history of dual language learner (DLL) and English language learner (ELL) education in the U.S. has swung back and forth between English-only and bilingual education policies and practices for decades, and some states are beginning to move towards laws that encourage multilingualism.

The following sections outline the major federal and state court cases and legislation that have impacted the education of DLLs in U.S. schools.

Federal Legislation

Several pieces of federal legislation have created the precedent for dual language learners’ education in public schools.

State Legislation

A significant portion of language learners in the United States live in states that have adopted English-only laws. Several states, however, have begun to put in place bilingual and multilingual laws.