Under these circumstances, a littlenoticed phrase could prove significant. Federally supported programs, whether for classroom instruction or professional development, must be grounded in "scientifically-based research." This term appears more than 100 times in the text of the No Child Left Behind Act. While such a requirement sounds reasonable in theory, the term remains undefined in law and thus vulnerable to abuse. The key question is: who will determine what is "scientific"? Answer: whoever is in charge of funding decisions at the state (and possibly the federal) level.
A few critics of bilingual education, such as Professor Christine Rossell of Boston University, have insisted that "scientific" studies of ELL programs demonstrate the superiority of Englishonly immersion - again contradicting a consensus of experts in the field. Whether the Bush administration will adopt Rossell's stance in funding the English Language Acquisition Act, or whether it will leave such policy decisions to the states, remains to be seen. But the new law could provide a powerful tool to officials seeking to dismantle native-language programs.
Senate Democrats demanded that, as part of the complex deal, the state formula- grant system be contingent on added spending for ELL and immigrant education programs. Congress will have to appropriate at least $650 million annually; otherwise, the federal competitive- grant system will be restored. This will mean an increase of nearly 50 percent in the Title VII budget.
The additional resources are good news for schools with substantial numbers of language-minority students. But it is important to understand that the money will be spread more thinly than before - between more states, more programs, and more students. Title VII support for instructional programs previously served about 500,000 out of an estimated 3.5 million ELLs nationwide in districts that won competitive grants. Under the new law - renamed Title III - districts will automatically receive funding based on their enrollments of ELLs and immigrant students. So the impact of federal dollars will be reduced. Last year, for example, about $360 was spent per student in Title VII supported instructional programs. This year, despite the overall increase in appropriations, Title III will provide less than $135 per student.
Funding for all other purposes - including teacher-training, research, and support services - will be restricted to 6.5 percent of the total budget. That amounts to about $43 million this year. Last year, by contrast, $100 million was spent on professional development alone in order to address the critical shortage of teachers qualified to meet the needs of ELLs.