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NABE Sets Goal: Teachers Fluent in Second Language

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Phoenix

In less than a decade, every newly certified teacher in the United States should speak fluently a second language in addition to English.

Leaders of the National Association for Bilingual Education set for themselves the task of promoting that ambitious goal--to be achieved by 2003--at their annual meeting here.

Over the next few months, the group will ask schools of education, state education departments, school districts, governors' offices, members of Congress, and national education groups to sign on to the effort.

Within a year, the association said, it will hold a national meeting on the issue.

It also plans to produce an annual report card marking progress toward the goal beginning in 1996.

"In every area, we expect our teachers to know more than our students--except when we talk about learning a second language," Kathy Escamilla, the association's vice president, said at a news conference here.

James J. Lyons, the executive director of the association, acknowledged that the nation's schools of education are a long way from meeting the goal.

"We know this is not going to happen overnight."

The meeting's keynote speaker drew hisses and boos at the mention of Linda Chavez, a former president of U.S. English, a group that helped spearhead the so-called English-only movement.

Ms. Chavez is now director of The Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington think tank that works on issues such as immigration and bilingual education.

"Linda Chavez, you cannot claim that you're being patriotic by saying to the next generation it is better to know less than more," said Samuel Betances, a Chicago-based consultant on diversity issues.

He was referring to Ms. Chavez's emphasis on the need for students to learn English, at times at the expense of their native languages.

"Anyone who says you can get along without middle-class, standard English is a fool, but anyone who says you can get along in the 21st century with only English is a greater fool," Mr. Betances said in his speech, drawing yelps and applause from the crowd.

In an interview last week, Ms. Chavez shrugged off the criticism."I am very proud to be a NABE foe," she said. "NABE has been at the forefront of insisting Hispanic children be taught in Spanish and denying them the opportunity to learn English quickly."

Many speakers here emphasized the need for advocates of language-minority students to work with other groups, particularly those representing African-Americans and other racial minorities.

Some observers have criticized NABE for its heavy emphasis on Hispanic issues. Three out of four U.S. students who speak a language other than English speak Spanish.

"African-Americans are a bit leery when we say groups [designated as] 'Hispanic' will outnumber them soon," said the keynote speaker, Mr. Betances, referring to the U.S. Census category.

"If we're not careful we're going to have conflict instead of collaboration," he said. "We need to build coalitions of interests, not color."

Lorena Zah Bahe, the president of the National Indian Education Association, also spoke of cooperation. "My presence here can be viewed as an attempt to build bridges," she said.

Although groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed California's Proposition 187, the rank and file did not follow suit at the ballot box, one speaker asserted.

"There's a tremendous amount of bridge-building that needs to be done between Latinos and African-Americans at the grassroots level," said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "It just doesn't exist now."

Lest one believe that language-minority and immigrant students are exclusively found in big cities, look no further than Missoula, Mont.

The city of 43,000 is home to some 35 Hmong families, most of whom arrived as refugees from Laos.

Tou Lee Vang Yang, who received NABE's "instructional assistant of the year" award, moved to Missoula as a refugee in 1988 after escaping from Laos to Thailand in 1981.

As an aide for the Missoula Elementary School District #1, he works as the sole translator for Hmong students and their families. He is fluent in Lao, Thai, and English.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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