The Montgomery Board of Education this week voiced strong opposition to new federal guidelines on bilingual education and voted to tell the Department of Education how it felt.
But Montgomery’s board members disagreed on how strong to make the wording of their protest.
“The federal government ought not to be telling local school systems how to implement educational policies,” said Superintendent Edward Andrews.
Prince George’s County School Board members recently took a similar stand in opposition to the bilingual education guidelines. Protests against the guidelines, issued in early August, have been heard from other areas of the country.
Board member Marian L. Greenblatt was scheduled to bring the Montgomery school board’s views before an Education Department hearng in New York City yesterday.
If the guidelines stand, they would require schools to assess all students who have a primary language other than English and provide them with English lessons and bilingual instructions from a qualified teacher.
If there are too few students in grades k-8 to form a class in a specific language, the school may use traveling teachers, parent volunteers, student tutors or tape recordings. For grades 9-12, the school may adjust the program where qualified teachers are not available.
“While the Montgomery County public school system is clearly implementing or planning to implement much of what is contained within the proposed guidelines,” the board said in a statement prepared for the New York City hearing, “it strongly objects to federal agencies mandating instructional practice, particularly in light of this administration’s and the Department of Education’s promise to reduce, not increase, federal regulation of public education in this country.”
Montgomery’s 181 public schools, with 97,000 students, include about 2,400 students who speak 83 different languages and have limited ability to speak English.
Last January, the board set in motion a variety of programs to help those students. They include instensive courses in English and native language instruction for up to two years. In some cases, courses have been modified for non-English speakers and tutors provided.
Montgomery County has bilingual programs for Spanish-speaking students at Montgomery Blair High School, Tokoma Park Junior High School and Rolling Terrace Elementary School. Instruction in Vietnamese is given at Richard Montgomery High School, Montgomery Blair High School and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Classes in Korean are held at Congressional Elementary School.
Board members said in their statement that the variety of programs appears to best suit the needs of Montgomery County, where many of the students come from diplomatic and professional families and do well in regular classrooms.
They estimated the cost of complying with the federal guidelines at $199,053 to hire full-time bilingual teachers, teacher assistants and tutors, and to buy materials and texts.
They said the federal regulations offer little or no money to fund the changes.
But board members disagreed on how to word their objections. Greenblatt’s draft of her testimony declared that she “abhors and rejects federal agencies dictating instructional practice.”
Board member Blair G. Ewing called the draft “strident and almost abusive in tone. I don’t agree with that testimony and I don’t like it,” he said. “I won’t support it. It has a stridency which is counterproductive in working with other levels of government.”
Board member Joseph R. Barse also called for a softer approach and said he wanted the board’s comments to be “as professional as possible in the least flamboyant way.”
“If we’re going to come out with mush, there is no sense in making a statement,” Greenblatt responded. “The question is: can the federal government go ahead and decide to impose an instructional program on 12,000 jurisdictions?”
Greenblatt’s draft was reworked during a break in the meeting and the seven-member board approved it unanimously.