Bilingual education in the U.S. originated with the German language dating back to the 1700s. In 1839, following a decade of significant German immigration, Ohio passed legislation, authorizing German instruction in the classroom.
By the 1880s, nearly half a million students were enrolled in German bilingual schools. At the turn of the century, there were nearly one dozen states that allowed bilingual education with several languages. Through the nineteenth century onward, bilingual education experienced numerous waves of support and contention.
The first major attack against bilingual German education resulted from the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment following World War I (see also: Immigration Act Expands List of “Undesirables”,1917). Suspicion over German American loyalties incited English-only instruction laws. During the inter-war period, school systems cracked down on English testing and fluency policies to reduce instruction in native languages. Shifting demographics in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries transferred the focus of bilingual education debates to Spanish-speaking immigrants. It was not until 1968, amidst the Civil Rights Movement, that President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Bilingual Education Act (see also: Bilingual Education Act Aims to Serve Non-Native English Speakers) to support and provide funding for native-language instruction. Debates over the methodology and ideology of bilingual education continue today.