Politics Found To Hinder Research on LEP Students

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Political debates over how language-minority children should be taught have hindered research into the field and evaluations of programs created to help such children succeed in school, says a new report from the National Research Council.

Too much research has been used to try to prove whether an English-only or bilingual approach works best with limited-English-proficient students, according to a panel of researchers and educators convened by the NRC, the research arm of the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences.

Rather, efforts should be directed at identifying a multitude of approaches that work, taking into consideration local needs and resources, the report released last week says.

"In recent years, studies quickly have become politicized by advocacy groups selectively promoting research findings to support their positions," said Kenji Hakuta, an education professor at Stanford University and the chairman of the NRC committee that drafted the 483-page report.

"As a result, important areas are ignored, such as how to enable these students to meet rigorous academic standards," he said.

Coordination Needed

An estimated 2.3 million U.S. schoolchildren cannot speak or understand English fully; almost 70 percent of those children live in California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

In its report, the panel takes stock of what is known and what future research needs exist in areas ranging from student assessment and program evaluation to teacher preparation and development. The panel outlines priorities and methodologies and analyzes the research infrastructure at the federal level and, to a lesser extent, in states and private foundations.

To better coordinate federal research on language-minority children, the panel recommends creating an advisory group within the U.S. Department of Education that would oversee such research and make sure that students with limited English skills are not ignored in decisionmaking on research priorities, funding, and dissemination.

For More Information:

Prepublication copies of "Improving Schooling for Language-Minority Children: A Research Agenda'' are available for $55 plus shipping charges from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418; (800) 624-6242. Final copies of the report will be available in the spring.

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