Bilingual Ed. Advocates Decry Changes to Title VII
Bilingual education advocates aren't happy with the bill passed by the House last month to reauthorize funding for the instruction of children with limited English skills.
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|Read the complete text of HR 2, from Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet.|
The main purpose of HR 2, approved Oct. 21 by a vote of 358-67, was to reauthorize Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But lawmakers also folded in Title VII, which covers bilingual education.
Delia Pompa, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Bilingual Education, said the Title VII provisions would discourage schools from using languages other than English, almost to the point of promoting "English only" instruction.
"It doesn't outlaw using [a student's] native language for instruction, but it doesn't promote it,'' she said. Ms. Pompa, who until recently headed the Department of Education's bilingual education office, noted that the term "native language'' is hardly mentioned in the bill.
"That's one of the good things about it,'' countered Jorge E. Amselle, the vice president for education of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington research group that opposes bilingual education. "The purpose of Title VII is not bilingualism. It's English proficiency."
Title VII, which was authorized most recently in 1994 along with the rest of the esea, traditionally has provided funding for language programs that range from bilingual educationin which students may receive some instruction in their native tongues while they are learning Englishto programs taught exclusively in English but still tailored in some way to students with limited English skills.
But HR 2 includes modifications to Title VII that critics say would make it more difficult to offer high-quality bilingual programs.
Among the bill's provisions, schools using federal bilingual education aid would be required to show they had sought parental permission before placing students in any programs that do not "exclusively or almost exclusively use the English language in instruction" or are "tailored for limited-English- proficient children." Under current law, schools can place students in such programs on their own, but parents have the right to pull them out.
The bill also states that if congressional appropriations for classroom programs under Title VII equaled or exceeded $220 million in any year, funding would be distributed to states on the basis of a formula pegged to the number of limited- English-proficient students in each state. Funding is currently distributed on a competitive basis, regardless of the annual appropriation.
Under the formula-based system, schools would need to demonstrate that lep students had become proficient in English and met state academic standards after three years, or lose federal funding.
What About Math?
Ms. Pompa of NABE, which represents 3,800 bilingual educators, said she was particularly worried that Title VII money could be distributed on a formula basis. Such a method, she argued, would spread an appropriation of $220 million so thinly that each student with limited English skills would receive only $61 worth of services per year. She said she would prefer that the money stay "concentrated and targeted.''
Fiscal 1999 funding for classroom programs was $160 million. Annual funding could reach $220 million within the five years covered by the pending reauthorization, according to congressional aides.
Raul Gonzalez, the education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, also criticized the Title VII part of HR 2. He said it emphasizes English proficiency so much that students with limited English skills might not get adequate instruction in other academic subjects, such as reading and math.
"Of course kids have to learn English, but they're also going to have to take calculus," Mr. Gonzalez said. "There should be some accountability for language-minority children on how to read and do math, not just learn playground English in one year.''
Senate's Plans Unclear
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, which produced HR 2, defended the proposed changes, saying they represent only the "bare-bones minimum in reform" for Title VII.
"I don't want to scrap bilingual education," Mr. Salmon said. "I just don't want there to be an incentive to do it."
It was his idea to add new parental-consent requirements to Title VII, Mr. Salmon said, to give parents "more control" over their children's education. And he supports the concept of distributing Title VII money based on a formula because it would give more "authority and autonomy to the states," he noted.
Some Democratic House members who voted for HR 2 said they oppose the Title VII provisions, but felt compelled to support the bill because it included the reauthorization of Title I.
"We're hoping that we can do something about Title VII in [a] conference [committee]," said Rep. Matthew G. Martinez, D-Calif., a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House education committee. "We believe the people in the Senate are more reasonable."
Joe Karpinski, the spokesman for the Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that Senate aides had met twice to discuss bilingual education, but that it was too early to tell what they would propose for the Title VII reauthorization in their chamber.
Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 22