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Study Suggests Wide Support Exists for Bilingual Education

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Based on a scientific sampling of American adults, researchers at Columbia University suggest that wide support exists for providing some type of bilingual education for non-English-speaking children.

But many adults are opposed to continuing bilingual instruction for children who have learned some English, the researchers' survey found.

About 63 percent of those surveyed in the nationwide sample approved of some type of bilingual-education program in the schools. But about 69 percent said they did not think such instruction should be extended to children who may not speak English in their homes but have some understanding of the language, according to a report on the survey, entitled "Bilingualism and Bilingual Education in the United States: Historical, Legal, Political and Social Aspects."

The one-year study was conducted by researchers in the immigration research program of Columbia's Center for Social Sci-ences. The project was supported by a $75,000 grant from the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation.

According to U.S. Education Department statistics and other studies, there are an estimated 3 million to 3.6 million language-minority students in the nation's public schools.

'Somewhat Unexpected' Support

Josh DeWind, director of the immigration research effort, termed "somewhat unexpected" the survey's finding on the degree of support for bilingual programs among both Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

"We expected to find support for bilingual education," Mr. DeWind said, "but we were surprised by the strength of that support. It seems most people realize that it can be helpful for immigrants and language-minority groups to use their own language while they're becoming integrated into American society."

"Many critics of bilingual education fear that the programs will hinder the integra-tion of minority groups into American soci-ety, and eventually foster cultural and political separatist movements," Mr. DeWind added. "But our research indicates that parents become more involved with their schools and community--more integrated into the educational and political systems on local, state, and national levels--when their children are enrolled in bilingual education."

Phone Interviews

The Columbia researchers conducted telephone interviews with 721 non-Hispanic Americans in the nationwide sample and 518 Hispanic Americans living in New York City and Los Angeles.

About 33 percent of the national sample and about 28 percent of the Hispanic respondents said that non-English-speaking children should be in public-school programs where all instruction is given in English, according to the report.

The major difference in the attitudes of Hispanic and non-Hispanic Americans toward bilingual education, the report noted, was apparent in their reasons for supporting such programs.

According to the report, about 17 percent of the Hispanics who strongly supported bilingual education said they did so for educational reasons; about 40 percent said they strongly supported bilingual education as a means of preserving the cultural heritage of Hispanics.

Most non-Hispanics, on the other hand, supported bilingual education for "pragmatic educational" reasons, according to the report. "Most non-Hispanics do not have an interest in using public funds to help Hispanics preserve their culture but do feel that it is the obligation of the society to make sure that all children receive an adequate education," the report explained.

For a summary report of the study, contact the Center for Social Sciences, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027.

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