Original URL: http://www.ny1.com/ny/Search/SubTopic/index.html?&contentintid=30986&search_result=1

Bloomberg Expected To Unveil Plan To Change Bilingual Education
NY1 News
JUNE 12TH, 2003

Jennifer Rainville

City Hall has been keeping a tight lid on plans for reforming bilingual education in city schools, but NY1’s Jennifer Rainville learned some exclusive details and filed the following report:

After months of debate, sources tell NY1 Friday a final plan to change bilingual education has landed on   Mayor Michael Bloomberg's desk, and he is expected to unveil it soon. However, sources caution schools will not see drastic changes in this politically sensitive area – at least not for some time.

When fully implemented, it will mark a significant departure from the past. Sources said the plan favors so-called dual language classes, in which students learn basic course work in both Spanish and English. Right now, only about 1,000 children are in such programs in the city, while 75,000 are in programs where they're taught primarily in their native languages.

But on the record, city officials are making just one thing clear: these changes will not be ready for the fall.

“We never said we'd have it rolled out for September implementation,” said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. “We've taken on a lot already as far as the overall  school structure of the Department of Education and the new systems we're putting into place.”

The mayor's standing has fallen among Latino voters, who helped put him in office. And pressure has been mounting among Latino leaders, who want to know the administration isn’t abandoning bilingual education for English-only immersion programs.

But Walcott insists it's not political, and that school officials – not City Hall – will determine how the plan is phased in.

“I think the question becomes, ‘What's feasible,” Walcott said. “And that's up to the staff at the Department of Education."

If it indeed turns out to be a dual language program, it could find a supporter in potential mayoral challenger Fernando Ferrer.

“Bilingual maintenance programs, and above all dual language bilingual programs, succeed brilliantly,” Ferrer said.

Dual language also wins the support of critics of bilingual programs, like former mayoral candidate Herman Badillo.

“The program of bilingual education as it exists now has to be reformed, because there are many areas of the city, for example, in Brooklyn, where bilingual education has become monolingual education,” Badillo said.

Some education watchdogs praise the idea of dual language programs but worry they'll only end up being for those who speak Spanish, leaving other groups out.

“We're really eager to find out about the new program,” said Jill Chaifetz of the organization Advocates for Children. “It's going to have a huge effect on all different populations. Sixty-seven percent of the kids who are English language learners are Spanish speakers, but over 10 percent are Chinese speakers.”

As many as 140 languages are spoken in city schools, but the concern is that those who speak a language other than Spanish will remain in English as second language programs.

- Jennifer Rainville