Letters To the Editor
Your Oct. 23, 1985, article ("E.D. Drops Effort To Redefine Term in Bilingual Law") falsely characterizes the Education Department as dropping its effort to issue regulations redefining transitional bilingual education (tbe) under the Bilingual Education Law, Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The truth is that we have never sought to modify through regulations the statutory definition of tbe, and we have always recognized that the statute prohibits us from doing so.
Title VII defines tbe as requiring native-language instruction "to the extent necessary" to enable students to "achieve competence in the English language" and to "meet grade-promotion and graduation standards." The department intends to inform local school districts that the statutory definition allows them broad discretion to make educational judgments about the extent to which students need instruction in their native language. One vehicle for conveying this fact will be the preamble to our forthcoming regulations under Title VII.
The department's understanding of the statutory definition will also be evident during the course of grant selection and monitoring. This approach, which is but one element of the Secretary's proposal for reforming bilingual education, is fully consistent with the statute, the recommendations of our general counsel, and Secretary Bennett's Sept. 26 speech.
You are making a mountain out of an inadvertent and passing reference to the definition of tbe in the course of a press conference. Instead of speculating about the internal decision processes of the department and taking statements out of context, you would do well to await further details on the specific statutory, regulatory, and administrative changes to be proposed by the department, including a major regulatory package that the department will be publishing shortly.
Gary L. Bauer
U.S. Department of Education
Editor's Note: We stand by the accuracy of the story. The main facts Mr. Bauer cites were included in it.
In his September speech, Secretary Bennett said: "We shall move, through regulatory and administrative changes, to allow greater flexibility for local school districts." Mr. Bauer in his "passing reference'' at a subsequent press conference reiterated that intention: "We're going to attempt through these [new] regulations to broaden that definition. ..."
And although Mr. Bauer's letter states that "we have always recognized that the statute prohibits us [from redefining transitional bilingual education]," the Secretary's principal aides in fact considered just such an option. The general counsel's memorandum, upon which the story was based, responded to their question about whether tbe could be redefined in regulations.
I wish to register my mild objection to Education Week for its failure to include some crucial remarks in its publication of excerpts from a speech given by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett ("On the Record," Oct. 2, 1985).
Mr. Bennett, while addressing the Association for a Better New York on Sept. 26, criticized three things. He claimed that federal legislation for bilingual programs had become (1) "confused as to purpose" (cultural pride versus English mastery) and (2) "overbearing as to means" (funding of non-bilingual programs for the teaching of English is restricted to 4 percent of the amount appropriated). He then asserted (3) that as a result of these two limitations in federally funded bilingual programs, "too many children have failed to become fluent in English." Most of the rest of his speech elaborated on these three themes.
Education Week excerpted most of the elaborations that directly supported those three themes. However, there was one important remark that, left unreported, gives the erroneous impression that the Secretary categorically condemned the use of native-language instruction as a means of assisting students to progress academically while learning English.
For the benefit of Education Week's readers, to the credit of Mr. Bennett, and in fairness to the concept and ideal of bilingual education, let me share a portion of the Secretary's speech taken from the actual transcript released by his office but not printed by your paper. I quote Secretary Bennett:
"The evidence includes the testimony of the leading businessmen who make up the Committee for Economic Development: 'We believe,' they say in their recent report on American education, 'that all Americans must become proficient in the English language in order to work and live in the modern world.' And from this they draw the following conclusion: 'Although this goal should be shared by every school district in the nation, we are aware that the techniques used to accomplish English mastery will need to vary from district to district. Because there is no agreement as to the most effective method for teaching English to non-English-speaking youngsters, such local variation is both necessary and desirable. We support bilingual education as long as English mastery is the end product of this program.' And, I would add, so does this Administration, and so do the American people."
I further object to Education Week's deletion of the Secretary's numerous references to the value of knowing one's culture and language made at both the beginning and near the end of his speech. One would tend to believe, from reading only the Education Week excerpts, that Secretary Bennett was not only categorically opposed to bilingual education, but that he held a philistine disdain for bilingualism and cultural pluralism.
The issue of bilingual education is so often debated with too much emotion, with insinuations on both sides of cultural and racial bigotry, and with too few facts. While I disagree with the Secretary that bilingual education has failed to help children become fluent in English (and I can provide evidence to the contrary), or that it frequently subordinates the teaching of English to native-language instruction and cultural pride (every bilingual educator I know has English mastery as the primary goal of his or her program), I respect his attempt to provide a balanced argument. Education Week, in my opinion, failed to reproduce that balance.
Thomas H. Butler
Director of Bilingual Education
Avondale Elementary School District
Editor's Note: We refer readers to the published excerpts, which represented about 80 percent of the Secretary's speech and provided a clear indication that the Secretary endorses local flexibility in bilingual-education methods. The quote from the Committee for Economic Development was omitted because we had covered its report, carrying the text of the executive summary, a few weeks before.
Secretary Bennett's references to the value of cultural pluralism were contained in three paragraphs of the speech. The following paragraph is representative of the view expressed in each:
"But there ought to be no confusion or embarrassment over our goal. The rise in ethnic consciousness, the resurgence of cultural pride in recent decades is a healthy thing; the traditions we bring with us, that our forefathers brought with them to this land, are too worthwhile to be discarded. But a sense of cultural pride cannot come at the price of proficiency in English, our common language."
Your confusing discussion of "secular humanism" ("The Great Secular-Humanism Debate Reveals a Truth About Public Schooling," Oct. 16, 1985) can be clarified with two simple statements:
1. Religion is a belief in the supernatural, period. Belief in anything else is not religion.
2. The controversy over secular humanism is between those whose beliefs are based on tradition and those who are willing to base beliefs on observations of the real world.
Unlike "Christian" schools, the public schools are free to teach that truth is a structure of ideas based upon, tested by, and revised by observations. That is what science is all about, and that should be the major outcome of the teaching of science in any school.
Unfortunately, few of our graduates seem to understand that. Worse yet, many science teachers seem not to understand that and are merely teaching about science. There is certainly no science being taught, however, in those schools that are committed to that blatant pack of lies known as "scientific creationism."
Regardless of other labels sometimes applied, the argument between religion and secular humanism is between those who look to the future and those who would take us back to the Dark Ages. We face difficult problems that will be solved, if at all, with new technology based on new scientific findings that will be financed largely with tax dollars.
That is why it is essential that the public understand how science works. That can happen in the public schools. It cannot happen in those schools where dogma requires the thrashing of the scientific ideas that scientists have accepted for a century.
John E. Beach
Fairless High School
Educators and politicians today are deeply involved in the battle over testing teachers to determine their competency (Commentaries, "Testing Arkansas Teachers: The 'Quick-Fix' Politics of Reform" and "Why All the Fuss About Testing Teachers?" Sept. 11 and Oct. 9, 1985).
Those of us who have been in teaching for several years are highly insulted by the notion that we, as professionals, should be tested. Not only have we successfully completed four years of undergraduate study at accredited colleges and universities, but many of us have gone on to attain master's degrees and earn college credits and degrees beyond even that. Without some degree of literacy this would not have been possible.
Proponents of teacher-testing point to other professions, such as medicine and law. But after doctors and lawyers pass qualifying tests at the beginning of their careers, they do not have to take tests periodically to determine whether they are qualified to further practice law or medicine.
Last summer at the National Education Association's convention, Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea, spoke in favor of an "academically rigorous teacher-preparation program, carefully monitored practice-teaching exeriences, and the passing of a valid exam that tests mastery of subject matter and professional skills."
Ah, therein lies the rub! The solution is preventive measures to arrest the problem of illiterate teachers--a rational, viable, feasible approach to the problem. Legislators should heed this advice: It's time to start at the beginning.
Cynthia J. Brown
Monroe City Association of Educators
Would it not be appropriate to change the title of your section called "The Marketplace"? I can understand the need to get the attention of those whose intelligence is at the lowest common denominator, but, after all, you are not selling vegetables.
There seems to be a proliferation of business-oriented language in many education articles, and I would appreciate one professional publication that might practice some restraint.
This input-process-product mentality will soon view the student as a widget and perchance recognize Frederick Taylor, the noted industrial engineer, as an educator ahead of his time. Teaching will then indeed become a blue-collar "job," schools could become "malls," students could become "products," and so on.
I would rather offend a few school public-relations folk (another "business byproduct"), who decry the use of educationalese, than give in to metaphors that counter my position as a professional educator. Perhaps if enough of us felt strongly on this matter, we could help parents and the authors of "what's wrong" reports see schools instead of plants and facilities; students as people rather than statistical achievements; and, finally, teachers and administrators as professional educators rather than as managers or employees or commodities.
As Education Week continues as a prominent force within the educational community, perhaps the moniker "Marketplace" could be replaced to reflect a more noble service.
Culbertson Public Schools