The Fight for Bilingual Education in Houston: An Insider’s Perspective

By Guadalupe San Miguel

During the 1990s, conservative forces in the country initiated a campaign to eliminate or replace state and local bilingual education policies with English only ones. Proponents of bilingual education challenged these efforts in policy-making arenas, in the courts, and in the streets. The attempt to replace a strong bilingual education program with an English only one also took place in Houston.

The politics of bilingual education in HISD occurred in the context of extreme distrust between the Latina/o community and the local district. This distrust originated in the late 1960s and continued unabated into the 1990s. In the 1960s, for instance, students, middle-class groups, and grass-roots organizations voiced their concerns about inferior educational opportunities for Mexican American children. Local school officials ignored them. In the 1970s, the local school board further alienated the Mexican American community by misusing the “white” classification of Mexican-origin children to circumvent desegregation mandates and pair them with black children. In the late 1970s, it established its magnet school program in mostly white areas although all the Latina/o members of the HISD established advisory committee opposed that plan.

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