1839 Ohio becomes first state to adopt a bilingual education law, authorizing German-English instruction at parents’ request. By the end of 19th century, 12 states had passed similar laws for instruction in languages as diverse as Norwegian, Italian, Polish, Czech, and Cherokee.
1868 Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States….”
1882 Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. It does not allow Chinese people already in the United States to become naturalized citizens.
1917 Immigration Act of 1917 bans all “aliens over sixteen years of age, physically capable of reading, who cannot read the English language or some other language or dialect” from immigrating to the United States.
1923 Supreme Court rules that states may not ban the teaching of foreign languages in the early grades, as some had done.
1940 Congress passes the Smith Act, or Alien Registration Act, making it illegal for anyone in the United States “to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government” and required adult alien residents to register.
1964 Congress passes the Civil Rights Act. Title VI of the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin within any program receiving federal financial assistance (such as a public school system).
1968 Congress passes the Bilingual Education Act, also known as Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), providing federal funding to local school districts to support bilingual instruction.
1974 In Lau v. Nichols, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, public schools must take steps to provide equal opportunity to English language learners. In the same year, Congress enacts the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, requiring states to address language barriers within their public school systems.
1998 Proposition 227 passes in a California election, requiring that all public school instruction be conducted in English. For students not fluent in English, the state provides a placement, not to exceed one year, of intensive sheltered English immersion.
2002 No Child Left Behind is signed into law. It establishes new requirements for the instruction of all children, including English language learners, who must now be taught in accordance with state standards and regularly assessed to determine their progress in learning both English and subject matter. Title VII is replaced by Title III, which provides supplemental funds for services to English language learners.