In a notable departure, the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education has recommended that alternative approaches be encouraged for teaching English to foreign students.

Specifically, the panel backed the "English-as-a-Second Language" (ESL) approach. In the past, the panel has advocated the bilingual method, in which children are taught in their native tongue and allowed to adapt slowly to English.

In its ninth annual report, released this month, the council concluded, "Educational research does not lend itself to hard conclusions as to whether one method of teaching children English is better than another."

While many education groups endorse that position, it was not generally reflected in last year's amendments to the 1968 Bilingual Education Act. The revisions provided a tiny amount of funding -- 4 percent of the current budget up to $140 million -- for methods other than the bilingual approach, which has been strongly backed by many Hispanic groups.

The shift in the advisory panel's position primarily reflects the change in the composition of the 15-member panel. The panel had long been a vocal advocate for teaching foreign children in both English and their native tongue, but the committee now includes six new Reagan administration appointees who favor allowing local districts to decide which approach to use.

One of the new appointees is the panel's chairman, Anthony Torres, a school superintendent in Sauk Village, Ill. Torres said yesterday that he has been asked to serve a new term as chairman of an expanded, 20-member bilingual advisory and coordinating council, which would have increased powers.

Expanding the council would give Reagan five more slots to fill, presumably with appointees attuned to his view that states -- and not the federal government -- should decide the best way to teach children who do not speak English.

Alternative approaches include English as a Second Language, in which English is taught to foreign children using a special curriculum and their native language is never used in the classroom, and immersion, in which the student learns English and course material simultaneously.

The advisory panel's recommendation that alternative methods be encouraged "is in tune with the research findings, which are inconclusive," said Paul Balach, the panel's staff liaison from the Office of Bilingual Education.

Added Torres in an interview: "A majority of the council felt that one approach had been getting a preponderance of the money and support, and there were other methods that seemed to be able to get the job done."

The debate, however, will no doubt continue.

OUT WITH THE OLD . . . Former education undersecretary Gary L. Jones, who left the department after he was passed over last year for the top job, has been named executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Board, which is raising money to build Reagan's presidential library at Stanford University.

IN WITH THE NEW . . . Education Secretary William J. Bennett has added a Williams College philosopher to a circle of advisers that includes a neoconservative Harvard professor, a veteran newspaper reporter and a prolific writer and educator who once worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

Bennett named Charles H. Karelis, 39, chairman of Williams' philosophy department, as a special assistant and policy adviser. Karelis received his undergraduate degree from Williams in 1966, the year after Bennett did.

Karelis will join Loye Miller, a former White House correspondent who now serves as press spokesman; Harvard political scientist William Kristol, son of neoconservative theoretician Irving Kristol; and Wendell Willkie II, Bennett's chief of staff, who performed that same role for Bennett at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Bennett's "inner circle" will be completed if former Moynihan aide Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary-designate for educational research and improvement, and Gary Bauer, the undersecretary-designate, are confirmed.