Bilingual-Ed. Decisions Left to Schools
Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, last week confirmed that the Reagan Administration intends to permit school districts to use a variety of instructional methods to teach non-English-speaking students.
Moreover, in conversations with reporters, Secretary Bell publicly acknowledged--for the first time since February 1981 when he withdrew the proposed Lau rules--that the policy change also applies to about 500 school districts that had negotiated compliance agreements requiring native-language instruction based on the "Lau remedies." Renegotiate Plans
Those so-called "Lau districts," according to an Education Department spokesman, are free to renegotiate their plans for serving language-minority students, who are protected under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
"We are not using the Lau remedies as a standard for evaluating new plans to remedy Title VI violations," according to the department spokesman. "We are being more flexible, and school districts are free to work with the office for civil rights so that they can revise their plans."
Native-language instruction, a component of bilingual-education programs and a requirement of the remedies, has not been formally disavowed by the Reagan Administration until now, although policymakers within the department have been debating a number of legal issues in connection with new Title VI enforcement guidelines to replace those withdrawn last year.
Officials in the department's regional civil-rights offices, however, said last month that they heard from Washington nearly a year ago that the remedies were no longer to be the Administration's principal policy guide, despite Secretary Bell's announcement that the agency would continue to conduct review of local bilingual programs under the 1975 Lau remedies. (See Education Week, April 28.)
More Free Choice
Mr. Bell and other officials have said they wanted districts to have more free choice in how to teach non-English-speaking students while still meeting their obligation to protect the rights of non-English-speaking students under Title VI.
During last week's Senate hearings, the Administration's policy changes on bilingual education were applauded by Phyllis Blaunstein, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, who was also representing the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the elementary and secondary school principals' associations.
Testifying in support of proposed Administration amendments to Title VII of the Bilingual Education Act, introduced in the Senate on April 21, Secretary Bell said districts should be free to use whatever methods work for them, and he offered assurances that only "pedagogically sound" bilingual-education programs would receive federal aid under the proposed changes.
Secretary Bell asserted that only "programs that are successful" would be funded under Title VII and the department would be "very scrupulous" in determining which programs would receive the "limited resources."
But while promoting the Administration's proposals to amend the current legislation so that ap-proaches other than "transitional bilingual education" could be eligible for federal funds, Mr. Bell criticized another legislative proposal introduced last year by Senator Walter D. Huddleston, Democrat of Kentucky. That bill would limit the length of time language-minority students would be permitted to spend in a program and would mandate annual student evaluations.
Limit is 'Intriguing'
"A one-year limit for student participation under most circumstances is intriguing, but while I am sympathetic with Senator Huddleston's reasons for proposing it, I cannot support it," he said.
"Specifically, while I believe that student participation in these programs should not usually be necessary for extended periods of time, Mr. Bell continued, "I do not feel that the federal government should specify the period of participation.
"Also, while I am enthusiastic about the idea that students be evaluated annually to determine whether or not they continue in the bilingual program," the Secretary added, "I do not feel that the federal government should require that evaluation as a prerequisite for participation."
During the two-day hearings, Senate witnesses offered testimony both in opposition and in support of the two measures. Senator Huddleston defended his bill, saying that it would help ensure that the program will be a transitional one and not a "cultural-maintenance program."
"I do not believe that interest in promoting foreign languages can be used to justify the Title VII program becoming a cultural-maintenance program," he said. "This program was passed to promote English proficiency--not to promote children learning languages other than English."
Currently, the Title VII legislation requires the use of both English and the non-English language, a requirement that would be changed under the Administration's proposal. Secretary Bell explained that school districts would be free to propose programs which use both languages or which use English exclusively. "Whatever a school district proposes," he said, "would be justified on the basis of an assessment of the needs of children present in the district."
Other provisions of the Administration's bill, S 2412, would establish a priority for projects serving language-minority students who are ''both limited-English-proficient and whose usual language is not English; and would authorize vocational training for "out-of-school youth'' and adults, and would provide federal aid for vocational-training programs to private institutions, colleges and universities.
Senator S.I. Hayakawa, Republican of California, who sponsored the Administration's bill and earlier this year proposed a Constitutional amendment to make English "the official language of the United States,'' said during the hearings that the role of bilingual education is to equip immigrants with the necessary English-language skills to qualify them for citizenship.
"The problem is that all too often, bilingual-education programs have strayed from their original intent of teaching English."
Opposing both bilingual-education bills, Arnoldo S. Torres, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that many of the arguments for amending the program were politically motivated. He said the Administration's bill would be "detrimental to research and refinement of bilingual programs" and would deprive many students of services who speak some English, but who still have not progressed in their "conceptual knowledge of the language ... to succeed in regular English language classes."
"Substantive changes are being proposed before the program has had the chance to prove itself, and many of these changes are based on a few and faulty negative reports," he said in referring to a series of controversial studies commissioned by the Education Department, one of which questioned continued federal policy promoting one approach to serving language-minority students.