Tongue-Tied on Bilingual Education

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Sep 2 12:06:28 UTC 2005

Editorial,  The New York Times


September 2, 2005
Tongue-Tied on Bilingual Education

Education researchers have been seething since the Education Department's
research arm announced that it would not publish a long-awaited, federally
commissioned report on bilingual education. The department denies any
political motive, noting that peer reviewers described the study as
terminally flawed. But given the politically charged nature of the issue,
the administration would be wise to make this controversy go away. It
could accomplish that by quickly conveying ownership of the study to the
researchers, who could then publish it privately and let the public judge
the work for itself.

The federally commissioned study was supposed to summarize existing data
to help us determine whether bilingual education helps students who speak
other languages learn to read English. The answer is crucial - millions of
American children come from homes where languages other than English are
spoken. The issue is also politically explosive because of ballot
initiatives in California and Arizona, where voters limited bilingual
education after ethnically inflammatory campaigns.

The study, which has been talked about for years, is still not out. But it
is known that the researchers conclude that bilingual education is helpful
to those learning English. That conflicts with the views of some powerful
Republicans and conservatives who view such programs as useless or
downright harmful.

Given all that, it is natural that some academics would question whether
the government backed away from the study because of its conclusions, not
its methodology. The Bush administration deserves praise for wading into
this politically explosive issue at all. But given the sensitive nature of
the subject, it should go out of its way to dispel the impression that the
study is being deep-sixed for political reasons. The way to do that, the
department seems to recognize, is to surrender the copyright to the
researchers right away so they can publish it independently.

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