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Panel Urges Greater Focus on Immigrant Children's Needs

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Washington

Urging greater Americanization of immigrants, a bipartisan, congressionally established panel called last week for increased attention to and resources for immigrant children in school.

Led by Shirley M. Hufstedler, who served under President Carter as the first U.S. secretary of education, the group's 64-page report lays out recommendations for revamping the nation's immigration system, but also delves into the integration of immigrants into American society and schools' role in that process.

Created in 1990, the nine-member U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform was charged with analyzing and recommending changes in the implementation and impact of the United States' immigration policy. The group released its final report to Congress last week.

Among its education-related recommendations:

  • Rapid acquisition of English should be the paramount goal of any immigrant language-instruction program.
  • Federal funding for students who speak a language other than English should be tied to performance outcomes based on students' English-language acquisition and mastery of academic subject matter.
  • Data should be collected on immigrant students, including data on their linguistic and academic performance.
  • Programs that are responsive to the needs of immigrant children and that orient them to American school systems and communities should be encouraged, such as so-called newcomer programs that concentrate resources for immigrant students and eventually move them into the mainstream.
  • Students should be taught the "common civic culture that is essential to citizenship."
  • Federal immigrant education funding should better keep pace with the actual needs of schools serving immigrant students.

Range of Reactions

Not surprisingly, the panel's school-related recommendations received mixed reviews.

"The recommendations here are exactly what we've been saying all along," said Jorge Amselle, a spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity, which advocates greater assimilation of immigrants and an emphasis on English instruction in schools. "Clearly, our concern is that we're drifting away from assimilation and into a negative multiculturalism that emphasizes differences instead of similarities."

But Joan M. First, the executive director of the Boston-based National Coalition of Advocates for Students, said some of the report's conclusions were troubling.

"We are becoming more, not less, multicultural and multilingual," said Ms. First, whose group works on immigrant education issues. "And as far as English goes, it's the word 'rapid' that bothers me. Children in many places are being exited from programs too quickly with playground English and not academic English, which is what they need to access the full curriculum."

For a free copy of the Commission on Immigration's final report, "Becoming an American: Immigration and Immigrant Policy," call (202) 776-8400.

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