Panel Asks Stress On English Studies

A group of educators said yesterday that Federal money now going to bilingual-education programs should be used to promote proficiency in English, not to teach other academic subjects in a foreign language.

The educators, members of a task force of the Twentieth Century Fund, a private research foundation, said the Federal Government should support programs that teach children to speak, read and write English as quickly as possible by ”immersing” them in the language.

They said the Government should not support bilingual programs that teach subjects such as mathematics and science in a student’s native language, while the child learns English. Those programs, they said, should be supported by local and state authorities, if they want them.

”We are not criticizing bilingual education per se,” said Diane Ravitch, a member of the panel. ”There is all kinds of contradictory evidence about whether or not it works. But there is plenty of evidence that immersion does work. We believe it is the best way.”

Mrs. Ravitch, an adjunct associate professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said that the panel, made up of 11 educators, believed that the Federal Government should promote equal opportunity and that this could be done only if everybody spoke English. The panel’s report, which is only advisory and did not cite any particular school system, will be sent to the White House, members of Congress and leading educators in all states.

”Schoolchildren to whom English is an alien language are being cheated if it remains unfamiliar to them,” said the report, which was released yesterday. ”They will never swim in the mainstream unless they are fluent in English.”

Almost 70,000 of the 900,000 children in New York City’s public schools are in some kind of bilingual-education program. In the 1981-82 school year, 52,611 children were enrolled in programs that taught ”content” subjects, such as math or science, in the children’s native language.

More than 17,000 other children were in English-as-a-secondlanguage programs, in which they are taught all subjects in English, but with special help for language problems.

According to Awilda Orta, the director of the Office of Bilingual Education for the New York City Board of Education, the city’s public schools will receive $16 million in Federal aid for bilingual education this school year.

Mrs. Orta said that 44 percent of the children who had been in bilingual programs for four years or more had passed the system’s tests for promotion for their age group. The average rate for the whole student body is about 52 percent, she said.

Criticism of the System

The report by the task force, like two others by prominent groups in the last week, criticized the American educational system in general and outlined some possible remedies.

On Wednesday, a group of governors, corporate leaders and other prominent figures who make up the National Task Force on Education for Economic Growth said the poor quality of public schools was threatening the military, economic and social well-being of the country. That task force called for longer school days and higher salaries for teachers, among other changes.

The Twentieth Century task force report said that ”by almost every measure” the ”performance of our schools falls far short of expectations.”

It recommended that the Federal Government provide ”incentive” programs for teachers and students. The chairman of the panel, Robert Wood, who was Under Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Develpment in the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, estimated that the panel’s suggested changes would cost the Federal Government $6 billion more annually.

Among the incentives the task force proposed was a program in which the best teachers might be awarded up to $40,000 a year in grants for ”professional improvement.”

President Reagan, from his earliest days in office, has been a critic of bilingual education, saying it was ”absolutely wrong” to have a program dedicated to preserving a student’s native language, rather than preparing him or her for the American job market.

The Administration has sharply reduced appropriations for bilingual education, from $161.5 million in fiscal 1981 to $138.1 million.

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