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California Study Supports Value Of Bilingual Ed.

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Children in "properly designed" bilingual-education programs learn English rapidly and meet grade-level standards in English and mathematics in three to five years, a new California study has concluded.

Findings from the study, commissioned by the California Association for Bilingual Education, were released at the group's recent annual conference in San Francisco.

The data--gathered from 25 schools in seven California districts--dispute "the claim that bilingual programs prevent the acquisition of English and keep children out of the mainstream," the report says.

Its authors, Stephen Krashen and Douglas Biber, both professors of linguistics at the University of Southern California, said the programs they studied shared several common elements.

These included development of literacy in students' native languages; rigorous instruction in math, social studies, and science in those languages; and strong English-as-a-second-language components.

The report cites data showing that graduates of such programs fared well on English tests when compared with national and district norms.

Bilingual-education advocates said they were hopeful that the results would help counter widespread anti-bilingual sentiment in the state.

But Antonia Hernandez, director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a speaker at the cabe conference, argued that positive research findings would not be enough to deter the programs' political foes.

California voters' approval in 1986 of Proposition 63--a ballot initiative making English the state's official language--reflected in part a negative public perception of bilingual education, she said.

She added that Gov. George Deukmejian's veto of the extension of the state's bilingual-education law last year "was a clear and painful reminder that we can never become complacent when dealing with programs like bilingual education."

John Kotick, chief executive officer of cabe, said in an interview, however, that the new study could boost lobbying efforts for the reenactment of the law.

Alicia Coro, director of the U.S. Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, praised bilingual programs in several California districts in an address at the conference.

But, she added, no one approach to teaching English to limited-English-proficient students should be considered the "be-all and end-all" for all communities.

Although the Reagan Administration has sought to shift the balance of federal bilingual-education funds to "alternative" English-based approaches, Ms. Coro said its primary goal was to give more school districts more flexibility.

"It is literally impossible to prescribe one program with the arrogance of certainty that it will do the trick in every circumstance," she said.

Copies of the report, "On Course: Bilingual Education's Success in California," can be ordered for $12.21 each for cabe members and $14.44 for nonmembers from cabe, 926 J St., Suite 810, Sacramento, Calif. 95814.--dg

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