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Battle Lines Drawn On Bilingual Education

Opponents and proponents of bilingual education waged a war of words last week on Capitol Hill, with each side claiming to shatter the other's "myths."

Proponents of bilingual education met on the morning of Sept. 18, at an event sponsored by groups such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association for Bilingual Education, to rebut recent charges from advocates of proposals to make English the country's official language.

Most notably, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., used a heavily promoted Labor Day speech to criticize "multilingual education" and lend his support to "official English" proposals. (See Education Week, Sept. 13, 1995.)

The National Association for Bilingual Education released a nine-page paper responding to some common criticisms. For example, it disputes the assertion made by some critics that bilingual programs are conducted predominantly in students' native languages.

On the afternoon of Sept. 18, Linda Chavez, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, presided over a forum with an opposing point of view.

Ms. Chavez charged that bilingual education prevents immigrants from learning English and assimilating, and that it benefits bureaucrats and academics more than students.

Stephen Krashen, a bilingual-education researcher who appeared at the proponents' conference, stood up at the opposing event to disagree with Ms. Chavez.

"Let's keep the debate clean. It's not a good start to say that we're just maintaining our rice bowl," he said.

Waiver Authority

The U.S. Department of Education has named Massachusetts an "educational flexibility demonstration state," making it the second state to gain the authority to waive federal regulatory requirements under a new initiative.

Oregon received so-called "Ed-Flex" status earlier this year. (See Education Week, Feb. 22, 1995.)

The 1994 law reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education ACT gave federal officials the authority to include six states in the experiment. They will be able to waive rules under the Title I compensatory-education program, the block grant formerly known as Chapter 2, and four other categorical programs in cases where the rules are impeding districts from implementing school reforms or carrying out standards-setting activities under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

Massachusetts officials said the initiative complements their efforts to offer similar waivers from state education rules.

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