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Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Is Spreading, Speakers Warn

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Los Angeles

At the annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education held here last month, many speakers warned that anti-immigrant sentiment is building across the country. They pointed in particular to California, berating Gov. Pete Wilson for his efforts to curtail education and other social services for illegal immigrants.

Historically, NABE has not gotten directly involved in immigration backlash issues.

"We've never set this out as a major priority,'' said James J. Lyons, the group's executive director.

Kathy Escamilla, the president of the NABE board of directors, told members, "I have a bittersweet message tonight: Our opponents are no longer attacking our programs. We've won that battle. They've gone beyond that to attack our families.''

Jim Cummins, the head of the modern-language center at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto, said many people in the United States are in a "process of denial'' about the increasing reality of a multilingual, immigrant society.

Most of the districts that came to the conference to recruit bilingual teachers came from such states as California and Texas.

Reflecting the changing demographic face of America's heartland, however, the recruiters also included representatives from Garden City, Kan., and Sioux City, Iowa.

Frustrated with the overrepresentation of limited-English-proficient students in special-education classes, a group of California researchers has developed a model classroom aimed at radically restructuring bilingual special education.

The researchers released initial findings from their pilot program at the conference.

In the "optimal learning environment'' project, researchers set up classrooms in an east Los Angeles elementary school that they described as looking more like those for gifted students than for learning-disabled students. They flooded the classes with books and allowed students to move more fluidly between languages--in this case, Spanish and English--than in standard bilingual classrooms.

The resulting reading gains in the classrooms were much higher than the national average, and more learning-disabled children were able to leave the program to enter mainstream classes.

Richard A. Figueroa, the head of the California Research Institute on Special Education and Cultural Diversity and one of the researchers, called the pilot program "theory busting.''

As early as next fall, there could be a binational conference between the United States and Mexico to engage students, teachers, and parents from both sides of the border to discuss educational collaboration between the two countries.

Eugene E. Garcia, the director of the U.S. Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, and members of his staff met at the conference with officials from the Mexican education department to discuss joint efforts between the two countries on issues of curriculum, professional development, and teacher exchanges.

While Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley supports the collaboration, Mr. Garcia said, the department has set aside no additional funds for such work. He said OBEMLA would focus on coordinating the efforts of participants from the public and private sectors.

The United States and Mexico already have signed a series of cooperative agreements. In 1991, federal officials and educators from both countries met for two days in El Paso and its Mexican neighbor, Ciudad Juarez.

Also at the NABE meeting, Apple Computer Inc. announced a new bilingual-education technology package that will be available by June.

The Spanish Language Connections program is a literature-based language-arts package for K-2 students to practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills.

Students can record their speaking and writing skills while teachers can scan in copies of student writing. A computerized portfolio-assessment program tracks student development, including preserving video images and student recordings.

For further information, call (800) 800-APPL.
--LYNN SCHNAIBERG

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