Method Still Facing Major Hurdles

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Educators are touting two-way bilingual education--which combines English instruction for children who speak other native languages with second-language learning for English-speakers--as a promising pedagogical approach for both groups.

But they say a host of political, psychological, and financial hurdles must be overcome before it can be more widely adopted.

The method, which aims for fluency in two languages for both limited-English-proficient and English-speaking students, is being promoted, in part, to address perceived pitfalls of transitional bilingual education.

But any association with t.b.e., which uses students' native languages to ease the transition to all-English classes, could be a double-edged sword, experts say.

Although what the method's proponents say are its benefits for English-speaking pupils could broaden its base of support, two-way bilingual education is likely to confront political opposition anyway because ''it flies in the face of some considerable hostility to bilingual education, ... which has taken on a political image that has nothing to do with teaching a second language," explains J. David Edwards, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages.

The refusal of Gov. George Deukmejian of California to extend the state's bilingual-education law and moves by other school districts and states to ease native-language requirements highlight the vulnerability of t.b.e.

In addition, the "English-only" movement has targeted bilingual education for attack and the Reagan Administration has sought to shift the balance of federal funds toward English-based approaches.

"It may be a liability" to promote programs that develop students' native language at a time when the Administration is backing other approaches, says Arturo Vargas, a senior education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza.

Some schools refer to two-way programs as partial immersion or dual-language learning "to avoid the negative undertones of bilingual education," according to one program coordinator.

Resist, but Persist

Apart from convincing school boards and parents to support two4way programs, educators must convince children, too, of the value of learning in two languages.

"Up until 3rd grade, it's easy sailing in the bilingual approach," says Paquita Holland, principal of the James F. Oyster Elementary School in Washington, one of the nation's first dual-language schools.

But as students become more sophisticated and the program becomes more challenging, "it's constantly selling them" on the merits of bilingualism, she adds.

By the time students reach junior high, however, they face another quandary: how to pursue their language study at a pace advanced enough to match their fluency.

Pupils are dismayed "when they realize they will have trouble continuing their bilingual education," according to Ms. Holland, but "they really have to fight to get decent Spanish in the junior and senior highs."

Of 30 bilingual-immersion programs cited in a directory by the Center for Language Education and Research at the University of California at Los Angeles, only two extended from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Cost Considerations

One reason the method has not caught on more rapidly is because of the expectation that it will cost more than other approaches.

Backers agree that two-way programs may require extra start-up and planning funds and that their cost varies depending on the program design, the languages, and the training and materials involved.

But "there is no evidence that the method costs more than any special program," argues David Dolson, assistant manager of the California education department's bilingual-education office.

Because Oyster's program uses two teachers for every classroom, salary costs are double the district norm, Ms. Holland says.

By using one teacher per classroom and alternating between English and Spanish subjects by grade and time period, however, other schools, like the Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Arlington, Va., report that they run two-way programs at no extra cost.

But despite such reports and proponents' contention that the dual benefits of two-way programs--pupils' fluency in two languages--in8crease their cost-effectiveness, funding constraints still make some districts balk at launching or expanding programs.

The San Diego school system, for example, despite the success of its bilingual-immersion program, is not contemplating any expansion beyond the three schools now involved.

In light of budget cuts and reduced staffing, "we're just trying to keep it going," says Tim Allen, director of second-language instruction for the district.

The state "has only been able to provide limited support because there is no single funding agency that has sanctioned this program," according to Mr. Dolson. Although the bilingual-education office encourages districts to launch programs on their own, they "have to be very creative."

Ricardo Martinez, a legislative analyst for the U.S. House's Education and Labor Committee, notes that the lack of Administration support also has been a barrier.

Since the Congress authorized funds for "developmental" two-way programs as an amendment to the Bilingual Education Act in 1984, the Education Department has budgeted about $250,000 annually to support such grants. The federal program currently serves 350 students in New York City and 100 in Little Eagle, S.D.

Anna Maria Farias, deputy director of the department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, says the Administration's view is that federal funds should be distributed to serve the greatest possible number of l.e.p. students. If districts want to establish two-way programs, "they can pay for them," she says.

Proposals in HR 5, an omnibus reauthorization bill passed by both houses last year, could bring modest increases in funding for developmental bilingual education.

The Senate proposal would include such programs in the "special alternative" category, which includes English-only programs, and raise the maximum percentage of funds that can be allotted to that category from 4 to 25 percent.

The House bill would allow funding for developmental programs to increase by up to $1 million in fiscal 1988, after all Bilingual Education Act programs are funded at current levels and 75 percent of new funds go to English-only methods.--dg

Vol. 07, Issue 17

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