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E.D. Plan To Close Language-Research Center Draws Fire

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WASHINGTON--The Education Department plans to eliminate its Center for Language Education and Research next year to supply funding for a new research center focusing on the education of disadvantaged children.

The language center, based at the University of California at Los Angeles, is charged with performing research on techniques for teaching limited-English-proficient students and for teaching a second language to English-speaking students.

"This is surprising,'' said Amado M. Padilla, the center's director, "given the fact that every day we hear more and more about the growing number of limited-English-proficient students that there are and their academic difficulty, that the only center dedicated to working with that population is slated now for defunding after its fourth year.''

"It also seems ironic, at a time when a number of people are calling for increased investment and renewal in foreign-language instruction, that this aspect of our work is also being eliminated,'' he said.

"This is a signal from the Administration that it gives short shrift to this kind of work,'' added Richard Tucker, director of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, which works with the UCLA center as a subcontractor. "We obviously are involved and have some self-interest, but I'm also upset on behalf of the profession.''

Lack of Funds, Not Interest

The department's decision was spurred by a lack of funds rather than a lack of interest in the language field, said Sally Kilgore, director of the office of research, the component of the office of educational research and improvement that oversees the centers.

The 1988 budget approved by the Congress in December hit OERI with funding cuts in every area other than statistics. (See Education Week, March 2, 1988.)

Mr. Padilla said Ms. Kilgore told him in November that his center would be funded. But he was informed in February that its budget was to be cut by 37.5 percent from its 1987 funding level of $1.6 million, and that it was to be eliminated entirely in 1989.

Department officials think funding the new center is more important than continuing the language center, in light of "an extraordinary scarcity of resources,'' Ms. Kilgore said.

"We've wanted for a year to have a new initiative on disadvantaged students,'' she said. "It was made very clear to us in forums across the country that it is the major concern of practitioners and state legislators.''

She also said that other department programs focus on the language field, such as the 10 technical-assistance centers funded by the office of bilingual education and minority languages affairs.

But Mr. Padilla disagreed. "The bilingual-education office, to the best of my knowledge, is not doing anything that resembles what we are doing,'' he said, and "none of the other OERI centers are doing any language-related research.''

Projects To Be Curtailed

The Education Department launched the language center in 1985, signing a contract with UCLA for three years, with an option to continue for a fourth or fifth year. Mr. Padilla said the department's guidelines called for a five-year plan.

The funding cutoff will force the center to curtail some projects and leave others unfinished, he said. In a letter to Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr., Mr. Padilla said "the effect will be the loss of many thousands of dollars of ED money,'' and "hardship'' for schools and districts that were participating in technical assistance projects.

Mr. Padilla and Mr. Tucker also complained that OERI specified which projects would be continued, without giving them an opportunity to discuss the issue.

Ms. Kilgore said the center was told to choose from a list of projects.

Two members of the House Education and Labor Committee, Democrats Matthew G. Martinez of California and Major Owens of New York, are sympathetic to his cause, according to Mr. Padilla.

An aide to Mr. Owens confirmed that the defunding was likely to be a topic of discussion this week at oversight hearings on OERI before the Subcommittee on Select Education, which he chairs.

While the agency also plans to launch a new center on citizenship and civics education in 1989, it is also requesting additional funds from the Congress, and Ms. Kilgore said there are no plans to eliminate any other existing centers. The center on technology is the only other center whose contract expires this year, and a competition for the award is under way.

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