Basics in the Native Tongue

U.S. Wants the Basic Taught in Native Tongues; New Bilingual Education Rules

Education Secretary Shirley M. Hufstedler proposed for the first time yesterday regulations that would require the nation’s schools to teach basic courses in languages other than English.

Hufstedler’s new regulations would force schools to provide basic courses such as math and science temporarily in the native language of most students with little or no command of English.

The proposal immediately prompted concern from education organizations and the Hispanic-American community. Some educators worried that the federal Department was going too far in telling schools how to teach. And representatives of the Hispanic-American community criticized the department for not going far enough in its bilingual education effort.

The proposed regulations stem from a 1974 case in which the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that something special must be done for non-English speaking students to provide them with equal educational opportunities.

The Supreme Court, however, did not say what that something should be, and a debate has been raging ever since.

Hispanic Americans and other language minority groups have been urging that schools provide at least “transitional bilingual education” instruction in the students’ native languages, because without it many students have fallen badly behind in school or dropped out.

The government has financed a separate, voluntary program created to study the value of such instruction, but that decade-old effort has yet to demonstrate its academic effectiveness.

Many school systems and education groups, on the other hand, oppose the idea of Washington imposing a single, national way of teaching in any area of education.

While many support bilingual education they also want schools to be able to provide “English as a Second Language” or ESL, instruction by itself if they choose. In such teaching students are given special instruction in the English language and take their regular courses in English.

The regulations the secretary proposed yesterday are expected to be adopted by the end of the year after hearings are held in six cities. They do not require congressional approval, and the department would enforce them by delaying or withholding federal money earmarked for school districts.

The new rules, which Hufstedler said were designed to ensure that students learn “English as quickly as possible” were intended as a compromise. s

Essentially, they would require schools with enough students from the same language group to provide “transitional bilingual education” to pupils who score below specified levels on tests and who do better in their native languages than in English.

The students’ command of English would be tested within two years and annually thereafter to see if they should be removed from the program. They could not remain in such classes for more than five years.

However, the regulations also would allow special “waivers” from these requirements where schools are using other teaching methods — if they can show that the other teaching methods are effective.

The regulations, replacing controversial guidelines in the same area, contain numerous other provisions requiring teacher proficiency in both languages, allowing pilot programs and dealing with cases where there are too few students or a sudden surge of immigrants.

The criticism from both sides has political implications for President Carter, who is attempting to woo both the education and the Hispanic American communities in an election year.

“The idea,” said an Education Department official, “is to get through the Democratic convention without blood on the floor from both sides.”

But yesterday’s reactions suggested that the idea had not completely succeeded. In an interview, Jean Tufts, president of the National School Boards Association, said:

“We are concerned that Washington is telling state and local government that they must use only one alternative way of teaching these children English — which is contrary to the secretary’s promises that the new Education Department which we support, would not interfere with state and local control of educational programs.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Association of Elementary School Principals expressed similar concerns.

Hufstedler contended yesterday that the regulations would “not dictate what teachers teach or how they teach. All we’ve done is say they have to teach them English, and that during the time they’ve learning English, they have transitional bilingual education. It seems to me that’s a mandate of results, rather than a mandate of a method.”

If many education groups do not agree with that, Hispanic Americans have opposite objections.

Vilma Martinez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, assailed the regulations as failing to ensure that millions of students will be “taught to learn in a language they understand.”

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