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Bilingual Education Column

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The National Association for Bilingual Education is planning to ask for a nationwide review of special-education programs as soon as President Clinton appoints a new assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department.

James J. Lyons, the executive director of NABE, asserted during a press conference at the group's annual convention in Houston last month that "thousands'' of children "are in classes for the mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, hearing impaired, and speech impaired, when, in fact, they have no disability; they have an ability--the ability to speak in another language.''

Placing these children in special-education programs, Mr. Lyons said, helps districts get more money to educate them. But, he added, it also severely harms the children and violates federal civil-rights laws, which prohibit the denial of access to government services--such as an appropriate education--based on national origin.

Even when limited-English-proficient students do belong in special-education programs, "more often than not, the programs are not providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services,'' Mr. Lyons said.

The leadership of NABE also continues to seek to have L.E.P. preschool students provided with services that are "linguistically appropriate,'' which it defines as in their native language.

Three years ago, NABE members undertook a study to determine whether the placement of language-minority children in English-speaking preschools caused them to lose their first language, and thus disrupted their family lives. Two years ago, the group published a report arguing that that was the case.

Since then, the study has been the target of "virulent'' attacks, said Lily Wong Fillmore, a professor of language and literacy at the University of California at Berkeley who led the research effort.

"I get hate mail,'' Ms. Fillmore said during a presentation at the annual NABE conference.

Ms. Fillmore said she has been working with the National Association for the Education of Young Children to develop policy statements on linguistically appropriate early-childhood education.

Underlying many of the speeches and discussions at the NABE conference was a belief that the nation needs to look at its bilingual children as an asset, rather than a liability, and to adopt the goal of making all students bilingual.

Many current education reforms may actually be having a harmful effect on language-minority students, Mr. Lyons and other speakers suggested.

Recent efforts to decentralize and downsize state education agencies, for example, have reduced the agencies' ability to provide schools with technical assistance to handle the diverse and complex needs of bilingual students, Mr. Lyons said.

"No pass, no play'' rules, he contended, have had the effect of denying L.E.P. children who are doing poorly in school access to extracurricular programs, which can add to their education and speed their socialization.

Donna Christian, a vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics, said more research needs to be done on how L.E.P. students are affected by site-based management, changes in standards and assessments, and other trends in the field.

Although modeling a language can be an important part of teaching it, a study presented at the NABE conference found that teachers in one urban district used a nonstandard English dialect about 11 percent of the time.

The study of 100 classrooms in an unidentified south-central city was conducted by three researchers from the University of Houston: Hersholt C. Waxman, an associate dean of education; Yolanda N. Padron, an assistant professor of education; and Deborah C. Saldana, an instructor.

The Spanish-language television network Telemundo last month launched a public-service campaign aimed at Hispanic parents.

The campaign, entitled "De Padres a Hijos,'' or "From Parents to Children,'' is expected to incorporate television specials, public-service commercials, a helpline for parents, and scholarship programs.

Officials of Telemundo Group Inc. said their New York City-based network reaches 46 markets.

As part of a campaign by the Spanish government to improve its image in the United States, the Spanish Embassy last month published the first edition of a magazine for teachers of Spanish-speaking students at the elementary level.

The magazine, De Par en Par, contains activities and instructional materials for teachers to use, and is available to bilingual-education teachers free of charge.

Carmen Moreno Huart, an education adviser to the embassy, said the magazine is part of an effort to teach about Spanish culture and improve the quality of Spanish bilingual instruction. The embassy also publishes two magazines for Spanish teachers, offers scholarships for study in Spain, and helps recruit Spanish teachers to come to the United States.

Copies of De Par en Par are available without charge from the Office of Education, Spanish Consulate, 6300 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1740, Los Angeles, Calif. 90048.--P.S.

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