Bilingual ed needs
more from Mike
New York Daily News
July 3, 2003
By DON SOIFER
Almost lost in the recent flurry of news from the school system has been Mayor
Bloomberg's $20 million reform of bilingual education. It's an event that merits
more attention, because while the mayor's plan includes some positive steps, it
still falls far short of what's needed. The city's English learners deserved
Part of the disappointment stems from what Bloomberg said during his campaign
when he suggested bilingual education's days were numbered. "There must be total
immersion for youngsters," candidate Bloomberg said in 2001.
But that's not what he said last week. Instead, English learners will receive
40% of their instruction in English initially and then gradually increase, with
the rest of the day taught in students' native languages. This is an improvement
over the bilingual programs in which students remain in separate classrooms and
are taught exclusively in their native languages. But it's hardly immersion.
The plan also will get programs for English learners in sync with the mayor's
new core curriculum. That's a valuable step, because the city's bilingual
programs seem to focus on everything except what they were created for in the
first place. Many offer everything from self-esteem to immigrant history to
puppet shows about cultural diversity.
Meanwhile, things are getting desperate for the city's more than 151,000 English
learners. Their dropout rate is rising faster than that of any other students.
In fact, according to a recent study, more drop out of school than graduate. The
study also found that English learners are often pushed to pursue general
equivalency diplomas instead of regular diplomas - a path that hurts not only
their chances for higher education, but their future earning power as well.
This is particularly bad news for Hispanic children, who are far more likely to
be placed in bilingual classes than children of other language backgrounds.
California, Arizona and Massachusetts have passed laws limiting the amount of
time that students spend in transitional language programs to one year. Other
states, including Connecticut, have passed three-year limits. But in New York
City, less than half of English learners get out of bilingual programs within
three years. Even worse, one in six is still enrolled in a segregated classroom
nine years later. Something major has to change - and fast.
One thing that has changed already is that President Bush's No Child Left Behind
Act requires schools to begin showing improvements in student achievement or
face real consequences. To meet that standard, New York will have to close the
learning gap between Hispanics and other students.
The success of New York's English learners is critical to the city's economic
future. Bloomberg's plan to beef up the curriculum and set new benchmarks for
progress is a step in the right direction.
But unless the city finds a way to actually teach these children all the English
language skills they need, those changes won't make a whole lot of difference.
Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute.