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State Jounal: Officially speaking

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Critics of state official-English laws, who frequently argue that the measures will inevitably lead to curbs on bilingual-education programs, may find some ammunition in the case of a National Science Foundation grant recently awarded to researchers at Arizona State University.

Concern over a 1988 constitutional amendment making English Arizona's official language apparently prompted university and foundation officials to drop plans to add a bilingual-teaching component to an educational-computer system being developed to teach math to Hispanic migrants.

Gary G. Bitter, coordinator of the school's educational-media and computers program, said negotiators jettisoned the bilingual aspect of program to avoid delaying the grant or running afoul of the state law.

Mr. Bitter said it was only later that he discovered there is nothing in the state's official-language law that would prevent the development of the bilingual computer system.


Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, the nsf's assistant director for science and engineering education, said he knew of no official-English law in any state that would prevent foundation grants from going to bilingual-education programs. The n.s.f. has no policy against awarding bilingual-education grants to states with official-English laws, he added.

But Alice Moses, director of the n.s.f.'s instructional-materials-development program and a participant in grant negotiations with Mr. Bitter, said the bilingual component was removed from the proposed computer system for legal rather than budgetary reasons.

Ms. Moses said Mr. Bitter suggested omitting the computer system's bilingual aspect after he mulled the legal questions involved.

Mr. Bitter said "both sides were concerned."

"I don't want to take the blame, and I don't want to give them the blame," he said.


The asu incident appears to be an anomaly, however.

Cameron D. Whitman, field director for U.S. English, which backs official-English laws, expressed disbelief that Arizona's statute could have affected an n.s.f. grant, calling the development "a very bizarre turn."

Mr. Bitter said the bilingual component could easily be added to the computer system later. He said he might seek funding to do so.

The omitted component would have enabled the computer to communicate in Spanish if it detected its student-user was having difficulty understanding math concepts explained in English.--ps


Concern over an Arizona law making English the state's official language has prompted Arizona State University researchers and the National Science Foundation to drop plans to add a bilingual teaching component to an educational computer system being developed there.at a.s.u. through an n.s.f grant, officials from the university and foundation said.

Gary G. Bitter, coordinator of the Educational Media and Computers program at Arizona State, said the passage of Arizona's English language law in November led him and grant negotiators for the n.s.f. to become concerned about the legal ramifications of adding a bilingual component to an educational computer system designed to teach math to Hispanic migrant students.

Rather than delay the grant or risk running afoul of the state law, which was passed as grant negotiations were in progress, the two sides agreed last fall to omit the bilingual-education component from the proposed computer system, Mr. Bitter said.

Mr. Bitter, who recommended during the talks that the bilingual program be dropped to avoid a legal conflict, said it was only later that he discovered there is nothing in the state's official-language law that would prevent the development of the bilingual computer system.

Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, assistant director for Science and Engineering Education for the n.s.f., said he knows of no official-English law in any state that would prevent foundation grants from going to bilingual-education programs, and the n.s.f. has no policy against administering bilingual-education grants to states with official-English laws.

While he was unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding the Arizona State grant, Mr. Shakhashiri said "a major theme" within the n.s.f. is its attempt to aid research dealing with women and minorities. "We are trying as hard as possible to reach out to that section" of the population, Mr. Shakhashiri said.

But Alice Moses, director of the n.s.f.'s Instructional Materials Development Program, said she was involved in grant negotiations with Mr. Bitter and the bilingual component was removed from the proposed computer system for legal, rather than budgetary, reasons.

Ms. Moses said Mr. Bitter suggested ommitting the computer system's bilingual component after he considered the legal questions involved. She said she did not recall who raised the question of the legality of the bilingual component during the negotiation process.

Mr. Bitter said "both sides were concerned."

"I don't want to take the blame and I don't want to give them the blame," Mr. Bitter said. "When you are negotiating you just want to get started."

The incident at Arizona State University appears to be an anomaly. Officials of several states which have passed official-English laws and several organizations which have opposed or advocated such legislation said they have not heard of federal agencies being involved in similar decisions anywhere else in the country.

Cameron D. Whitman, field director for U.S. English, an organization which actively supports official-English laws, expressed disbelief that Arizona's law could have affected an n.s.f. grant and called the development "a very bizarre turn."

Bitter said the bilingual component can easily be added to his computer system later on, and he may seek to add it through an additional grant from the n.s.f. or the Ford or Carnegie foundations.

The ommitted component would have enabled the computer to communicate in Spanish if it detected its student-user was having difficulty understanding math concepts explained in English.

The n.s.f. has awarded Mr. Bitter and Raymond V. Padilla, head of a.s.u.'s Hispanic Research Center, a $596,676 grant to develop the computer system from which the component was removed.

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