Flexibility Stressed In New Rules for Bilingual Classes

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last week proposed new bilingual-education regulations that enable school districts to decrease the amount of native-language instruction in their federally funded programs.

Mr. Bennett also announced that the Education Department will invite more than 400 school districts to renegotiate longstanding agreements governing their curricula for limited-English-proficient (lep) students. (See text on page 16.)

The actions follow by two months a policy speech in which Mr. Bennett sharply criticized the federal bilingual-education program for overemphasizing lep students' native language at the expense of teaching English.

The Democratic chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, called the planned regulatory changes "woefully misguided" and possibly illegal.

At a White House briefing last week for local bilingual-education officials and at a subsequent press conference, department spokesmen outlined three main objectives of the new rules, which were to be published in the Nov. 22 Federal Register:

To emphasize that school districts have significant leeway in the amount of native-language instruction in their transitional bilingual-education programs.

In transitional programs, lep students are taught basic skills in their native language while they learn English. Under the proposed rules, "the local educational agency, not the federal government, decides the amount of native-language instruction to be used, how to use it, and the duration of its use," said Mr. Bennett in a prepared statement.

Moving children from bilingual classes to regular educational programs quickly will be one of the department's criteria for rating grant applicants.

To press local authorities to develop locally funded programs and to regard federal bilingual money--authorized by Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965--as "seed money" and not an entitlement.

The rules "establish new requirements for school districts to demonstrate, as required by law, that they will build local capacity to finance bilingual-education programs without federal funds," according to Mr. Bennett.

To establish detailed criteria, as required by law, for increasing parental involvement in the development of districts' bilingual-education programs.

The regulations require parental consultation in the design, grant application, and method of instruction in bilingual programs. They also require districts to offer parents the option of withdrawing their children from bilingual programs.

Rules Termed 'Significant'

Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer called the proposed new rules a "significant" step in reforming the federal bilingual-education program.

And although the $143-million federal program accounts for a relatively small share of the nation's educational expenditures for lep students, local and federal officials have said that Mr. Bennett's widely publicized initiative could have a broad impact on bilingual programs that are not federally supported.

In a Sept. 26 speech in New York City, Mr. Bennett said, "After 17 years of federal involvement and after $1.7 billion in federal funding, we have no evidence that the children we sought to help--that the children who deserve our help--have benefited."

In the speech, he called for renewed emphasis on English-language instruction for lep students and announced that he would ask the Congress to remove the requirement that only 4 percent of the current bilingual-education allocation can be used for "special alternative instructional programs" such as English as a second language and immersion.

Some local bilingual-education officials and other critics have expressed concern that the Secretary's initiative could signal to local policymakers that they may effectively decrease their commitment to lep students.

Kathy C. Escamilla, bilingual-education director for the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District, who was invited here for the White House briefing, said in an interview, "I'd hate for our school board to hear that there's no research supporting bilingual education, because there is."

Department officials vigorously countered such statements. Mr. Bauer said that the Administration is strongly committed to bilingual education.

Focus on 'Flexibility'

Critics of Mr. Bennett's Sept. 26 address did not quarrel significantly with the regulations concerning parental involvement and the encouragement of locally funded programs, but they have continued to single out for criticism his emphasis on local flexibility in transitional programs.

The bilingual-education law that the Congress wrote last year prohibits the department from redefining transitional bilingual education, which mandates native-language instruction "to the extent necessary" for lep students to achieve "grade- promotion and graduation standards."

Unable to redefine bilingual education, as they had once considered doing, department officials will implement their policy shift by emphasizing local flexibility and establishing the criteria for making grants.

For example, those criteria, which were to be published with the regulations, give applicants credit for demonstrating that their lep students will "achieve English-language proficiency as quickly as possible." But there is no mention of the language on "grade promotion and graduation standards."

Mr. Lyons, who helped draft the law, said that the clause regarding ''grade-promotion and graduation standards" was intended to ensure that lep students get basic skills and English-language instruction.

O.C.R. Memo

On a second track, the department's office for civil rights has begun to identify the districts that have consent agreements with the federal government covering their bilingual-education programs.

Civil-rights experts and department officials said that there are at least 400 and possibly more than 500 districts with consent agreements.

Many of the agreements were negotiated following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1974 decision in Lau v. Nichols, in which the Court ruled that lep students are entitled under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to extra educational services.

Local officials and civil-rights experts have said that few districts are likely to accept the government's offer. It would be a tremendous administrative burden to re-tool entire programs, they said.

Comments on the regulations will be accepted for 60 days and may be addressed to: Carol Pendas Whitten, director of the office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, ed, 300 7th St., S.W., Room 421, Washington, D.C. 20202.

Vol. 05, Issue 13

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

To Address Chronic Absenteeism, Dig into the Data

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Keep Your Schools Safe and Responsive to Real Challenges

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

3 Unique Learner Profiles for Emerging Bilinguals

Effective Questioning Practices to Spur Thinking

Empower Reading Teachers with Proven Literacy PD

Dyslexia: How to Identify Warning Signs at Every Grade

Increased Social Connectedness Through Digital Peer Learning

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >