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Group Urges Widening the Scope of Bilingual-Education Aid

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WASHINGTON--In recommendations for the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, bilingual-education advocates seek to broaden the focus of the federal program aiding limited-English-proficient students and to require that they receive greater attention under Chapter 1 and in school-reform initiatives.

A particularly comprehensive plan is to be released this week by a task force known as the Stanford Working Group, which is composed of experts from academia, philanthropy, education groups, and advocacy organizations and is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

James J. Lyons, the executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, is a member of the Stanford group, but NABE also has drafted its own proposal for revising Title VII, the E.S.E.A. bilingual program.

The largest and best-known part of Title VII awards competitive grants to school districts to develop or improve education programs for L.E.P. children.

Over the past decade, political debate has focused on how much of these grant funds should go to "special alternative'' programs that do not use students' native languages. The Reagan Administration, which was sharply critical of bilingual education, succeeded in raising the funding cap for alternative programs from 4 percent to 25 percent in the 1988 reauthorization of the E.S.E.A.

Critics of bilingual education have also insisted that Title VII be narrowly focused on teaching English; a 1988 amendment limited students' participation in federally funded bilingual programs to three years.

Multilingual Preference

Both the Stanford group and NABE propose eliminating that constraint and giving preference to programs that seek to produce multilingual students. They particularly hope to encourage more funding for "developmental'' programs, in which L.E.P. and English-proficient students are taught jointly in two languages.

The Stanford report calls more explicitly than does the NABE plan for broadening Title VII's purpose, arguing that programs should not focus "unduly on English-language development at the expense of higher-order skills'' and that L.E.P. students "should be provided opportunities to continue studying in the native tongue after they become proficient in English.''

Both proposals would retain the cap on "special alternative'' funding, and the Stanford report would specifically limit such funding to schools where bilingual programs are "administratively impractical.''

In keeping with current interest in systemic school reform, both plans call for new categories of grants to support efforts by school districts to revamp the programs of entire schools or districts to better serve L.E.P. children.

The Stanford plan would also provide "enhancement'' grants to improve existing state and local programs specifically for L.E.P. students. NABE proposes "development'' and "enhancement'' grants to support new and existing targeted programs.

A Place in Reform Plans

Both plans also call for expanding federal research on bilingual education and Title VII teacher-training programs, and for upgrading the directorship of the Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs to an assistant secretary's position.

One notable proposal found only in the Stanford plan is a call for doubling the amount of Title VII funding retained by state agencies and for giving states the authority to review and comment on local applications.

Many of the Stanford recommendations are pegged to the Clinton Administration's pending education-reform bill, which would aid state and local reforms and establish a federal role in developing national education standards and assessments.

The Stanford group calls for requiring that reform plans address the needs of L.E.P. students; that assessments "appropriate'' for them be developed; and that "opportunity to learn'' standards include resources such as bilingual teachers.

Chapter 1 Proposals

The Stanford ideas for the Chapter 1 remedial program include more narrow targeting of funds to schools serving the neediest students; requirements that parent-involvement efforts include "linguistically accessible'' programs; a set-aside of funds for staff training; and a requirement that "improvement plans'' address the needs of L.E.P. students.

The plan also calls for repealing a ban on Chapter 1 participation by students whose educational deprivation stems solely from a lack of English proficiency. The ban's intent was to keep schools from using Chapter 1 funds to provide services for L.E.P. students that they are legally obligated to provide from their own funds. While L.E.P. students who are also otherwise disadvantaged are eligible for Chapter 1, the provision discourages schools from including them.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is also circulating a plan for revising Chapter 1. It endorses most of the recommendations made last December by the Independent Commission on Chapter 1, but adds provisions that would require attention to the specific needs of L.E.P. students and parents.

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