Bilingual Educators Express Hope Federal Assistance Will Be Expanded
HOUSTON--After 12 years of Republican administrations that they saw as hostile to their cause, bilingual-education advocates meeting here have expressed optimism about the prospects for expanding federal efforts to help the nation's burgeoning population of language-minority children.
Much of the talk at the annual convention of the National Association for Bilingual Education here late last month focused on the possibility that Congressional action this year on reauthorization of federal elementary and secondary education programs could lead both to expansion of the existing grant program for limited-English-proficient children and to a greater role for those children in the much larger Chapter 1 program for the disadvantaged.
"Everything right now is on the table. It's the first time in 12 years that we have felt comfortable to do so,'' U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, a freshman Democrat from Los Angeles, told NABE members.
"We need a system that brings bilingual education from the margin to the center of school reform,'' Mr. Becerra said.
President Clinton has taken no public position on bilingual education, but observers expect his Administration to be more sympathetic to NABE's concerns than the recent Republican administrations. The Reagan Administration, in particular, repeatedly labeled bilingual programs as failures and sought to direct funds to alternative programs that do not teach L.E.P. children in their native languages.
Currently, federal officials can award up to 25 percent of funds available under the primary bilingual-education grant program to such alternative projects.
In an interview at the conference, Rene C. Gonzalez, the acting director of the Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, did not say whether the new Administration would try to change that policy. But he promised that it would seek to upgrade the bilingual program and the office that administers it to meet the challenge of a growing L.E.P. population.
"The question is not whether bilingual education is good, or whether this program is better than that one,'' Mr. Gonzalez said. "The question is how the country is going to educate a burgeoning number of linguistically diverse populations.''
Based on figures provided by states, the U.S. Education Department has estimated that there 2.4 million limited-English-proficient children in the nation's schools, and NABE estimates that fewer than 15 percent are served by Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides grants to school districts on a competitive basis.
James J. Lyons, the executive director of NABE, said the group will seek to double the program's authorized-spending level in the upcoming å.ó.å.á. reauthorization. NABE currently is working in tandem with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to develop a reauthorization proposal, which Mr. Lyons said would call for restructuring the program.
In addition, a task force called the Stanford Working Group on Federal Education Programs for Limited-English-Proficient Students, composed of 20 experts from universities, philanthropies, education organizations, and advocacy groups, is working on its recommendations. Established last fall with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the group presented a rough draft of some of its proposals at the NABE conference and is attempting to develop a final statement this month, according to Diane L. August, the group's executive director.
The group's proposals for Title VII are similar to NABE's, although they would give state education agencies greater responsibility for administering and evaluating both Chapter 1 and Title VII grants.
That is "naÃive,'' Mr. Lyons contended, in light of what he described as the vastly different track records of states in providing services to L.E.P. students.
Mr. Lyons said NABE hopes to revise Title VII so that it can do more than fund projects for a few years in individual schools, as is generally the case currently.
Bilingual-education projects often tend to be isolated from the rest of a school's activities, Mr. Lyons said, adding: "The school as a whole does not accept the responsibility for the education of L.E.P. students.''
Paralleling current thinking about Chapter 1, Mr. Lyons suggested that some schools with sufficient numbers of L.E.P. students be allowed to establish schoolwide projects, in which funds could be used throughout the school to develop materials, train staff members, and establish family-education programs.
"We want to break out of the mold of the bilingual classroom and have the whole school become adept at meeting the needs of language-minority students,'' Mr. Lyons said.
Mr. Lyons also called for systemwide grants that could be used by local and state education agencies or postsecondary institutions to develop curriculum frameworks, teacher training programs, and new initiatives to address teacher recruitment and certification, student assessment, and program evaluation.
While advocating "a radical expansion'' of Title VII funding of teacher training programs, he said Title VII grants to colleges and universities should be awarded only on the condition that they put the professors hired for bilingual teacher training on tenure tracks and incorporate training for dealing with L.E.P. students throughout their curricula.
Tapping Chapter 1
However, advocates may find it difficult to win sharply increased funding for Title VII in tight budgetary times.
Indeed, activists' interest in securing Chapter 1 services for L.E.P. children may be due partially to the greater political popularity of the larger program, which touches three-quarters of the nation's school districts. Representative Becerra acknowledged at the conference that the cause of reforming Chapter 1 has more support on Capitol Hill than proposals to increase federal funding for bilingual education.
"Title VII has had to fight very, very hard for credibility in Washington,'' he observed.
"That is probably a good adaptive response to certain political realities,'' Mr. Lyons said. "But it is also true that mainstream education programs are going to have to respond to the needs of a population that's no longer an insignificant minority.''
Perhaps the most significant change in federal policy being sought by NABE concerns a provision that bars children from participating in Chapter 1 if their educational problems stem "solely'' from language deficiencies, as opposed to general educational deprivation.
The aim of the provision is to prevent schools from using Chapter 1 funds to provide bilingual help they are required by federal civil-rights law to provide from their own funds.
In theory, L.E.P. children are to be considered for inclusion in Chapter 1 programs on the same basis as other students. But since it is difficult to separate causes, the current provision discourages educators from placing L.E.P. students in Chapter 1.
"There's a brutal irony here of saying the federal government isn't going to allow these children to be served because a federal law says they must be served,'' Mr. Lyons said. "That is just a cruel hoax.''
He said NABE and MALDEF are working to draft language that will allow L.E.P. children to participate more fully in Chapter 1, while guarding against the use of Chapter 1 funds to supplant state and local spending on bilingual programs.
The argument of bilingual-education advocates that the provision unfairly denies language-minority children the compensatory-education help they need is echoed by other analysts as well. An Education Department study on Chapter 1 released last month noted that only about 35 percent of L.E.P. children are currently participating in Chapter 1, and urged revision or elimination of the existing limitation. (See Education Week, Feb. 24, 1993.)
The study, the National Assessment of Chapter 1, found that L.E.P. children are sometimes excluded from testing that could place them in Chapter 1, and that some districts require students to achieve basic oral-language proficiency before participating. Because most schools concentrate Chapter 1 services in the early grades, the report said, such students are often locked out of the program.
James Connelly, the superintendent of the Bridgeport, Conn., schools and a co-chairman of a coalition of New England superintendents concerned with language-minority issues, charged some state education agencies with setting up "false barriers'' that prevent L.E.P. students from receiving Chapter 1 services.
"Chapter 1 has categorized kids just too much'' and has forced districts to deal with children in a way that is not "educationally sound,'' Mr. Connelly said.
Both NABE and the Stanford Working Group are also expected to propose that all schools receiving Chapter 1 funds be required to insure that their curricula, materials, and staff-training programs address the needs of L.E.P. students. Mr. Lyons said NABE would also propose setting aside some Chapter 1 money for state programs aimed at improving services for L.E.P. children.
"We don't want to lose those children in Chapter 1,'' said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Tex., like Mr. Becerra a freshman member of the House Education and Labor Committee.
Mr. Lyons said Chapter 1 needs to be especially attentive to the needs of L.E.P. students who enter schools in the United States at the secondary level. Chapter 1 funding should be used to reduce their class sizes and establish after-school or weekend programs to help them overcome the substantial obstacles to graduation they face, he said.
Bilingual-education advocates also voiced concerns about the allocation of Chapter 1 resources.
Chapter 1 allocations to states and districts are based on U.S. Census counts of children in poverty. Those numbers only change every 10 years, so states with growing populations of low-income immigrants are penalized until the next decennial adjustment of population figures.
For example, California's Chapter 1 funding has failed to keep pace with its rapid population growth caused by immigration, Mr. Becerra said.
The other side of the coin is that states that have lost population, or have not kept up with faster-growing states, stand to see significant decreases in their Chapter 1 allocations this year, when the 1990 Census data will be used for the first time. This means that some urban districts with increasing numbers of language-minority students will be hurt.
For example, Luis O. Reyes, a member of the New York City board of education, complained that his city, which is experiencing a massive influx of immigrants, is losing $60 million in Chapter 1 money as a result of the 1990 Census figures.
Most observers agree that the upcoming reauthorization will feature a major battle over the Chapter 1 formula. Representative Becerra warned that the debate could turn into a "zero-sum game'' pitting regions that have gained or lost population against each other.
Another concern of advocates is that individual schools within districts are frequently selected to participate in Chapter 1 on the basis of school-lunch or welfare data. But such methods may fail to account for low-income members of language minorities who choose not to apply for such aid for cultural reasons or because they fear deportation, experts at the NABE conference said.