Tongue-Tied on Bilingual Education
New York Times
September 2, 2005

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.