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Is bilingual education report being downplayed?

Susan Notes: Now we get a glimmer of what the Feds mean by "science." For the Bush administration, whether its global warming or evolution, or bilingual education, science is what they say it is. And they don't tolerate evidence to the contrary.

By Greg Toppo

The government will not publish a report it commissioned on bilingual education - and critics say that's because the Bush administration disagrees with the findings, which cast doubt on the efficacy of teaching immigrant children through English-only lessons.

The U.S. Education Department appointed the National Literacy Panel, a non-partisan group of university researchers, in May 2002 to do a two-year study taking "a good, hard look at the existing research" on bilingual education. At the time, Russ Whitehurst, assistant secretary for Education Research and Improvement, noted that the No Child Left Behind education reform law "puts a strong emphasis on using education practices and programs based on sound, scientifically-based research."

The new findings were submitted in draft form last spring, but the panel's chairman on Wednesday said Whitehurst plans to give publishing rights back so the panel can find its own publisher.

That brought criticism from Bruce Fuller, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who says the decision echoes others in which the administration has downplayed research with which it disagreed.

"A lot of us have applauded the secretary of education and the White House science adviser for pushing higher-quality experimental designs in education, so now we can test school reforms in the same way we test drugs or food additives," says Fuller. "But even after we meet these high standards, the administration doesn't necessarily listen to the results."

Over the past several years, conservative activists nationwide have advocated abandoning bilingual programs for new immigrant children in favor of English-only instruction. But James Crawford, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, a professional association for teachers, says that contradicts "a large body of educational research."

Whitehurst was not immediately available for comment. Education Department spokesman Chad Colby declined to comment on the report.

Bush hasn't advocated so-called English immersion, but No Child Left Behind requires that immigrant children be tested in English after three years. Exceptions are allowed, at a school's discretion, to test in the child's native language instead.

Crawford says he's concerned "that the department would hold up releasing a study that is scientific simply because its conclusion is politically inconvenient."

But panel chairman Timothy Shanahan, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, says he'd be surprised if the book-length findings weren't snapped up by a publisher.

He says he doesn't think the Bush administration is trying to distance itself from the report, but simply decided to let the panel publish it independently.

"If they tried to eat the copyright, that'd be different," he says. "That would mean that I can't show you the report. The fact is, it's going to be available and I intend to see that this thing gets published in a highly visible way."

— Greg Toppo
USA Today



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