Associated Press – New York City schools will provide more help to immigrants and other English language learners and their families under a plan approved by the state Wednesday.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. says the city plan will provide more options, support and services, including 125 new bilingual programs over the next three years. Parents will have a choice of the traditional approach of English as a Second Language or bilingual education, with some instruction carried out in Spanish or another language.
“English language learners are facing serious obstacles to academic success,” King said Wednesday. “This plan removes a lot of those obstacles … it’s vital to our economy that we help ELL students succeed. If they’re not successful, everyone suffers.”
“This is a situation that has been under-attended to,” King said in an interview. “Any plan is only as good as its implementation and so we will be vigilant.”
Students who primarily speak Spanish and other students speaking any of the dozens of languages other than English had a graduation rate of just 41.5 percent in June. Just 7 percent of English language learners who were freshmen in 2006 were considered ready for college or a career, according to the state education department.
“We know that when these students become proficient in English and no longer need additional services, they perform even better than their peers and boost our system as a whole,” said city schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott.
New York City schools will hire more bilingual teachers and create a warning system to alert when the students’ test scores show concerns. The programs will include services for students considered “long-term” English language learners and more quickly identify students who need bilingual services.
The state and city will also work to resolve a shortage of bilingual teachers, exploring alternatives to certification beyond the traditional education requirements and creating incentives to bolster their numbers.
Gisela Alvarez, a senior projects director at Advocates for Children in New York, which released a report in 2009 that was critical of English language learning at two Brooklyn schools, called the plan “a very bold signal from the state.”
“The plan addresses a lot of longstanding, fundamental problems in how the city supports its English language learning students,” she said. “We think that a lot depends on how it’s implemented and how it’s monitored.”
Khin Mai Aung, the director of the educational equity project at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has advocated for improving programs for English language learners, agreed it was the right move. But she said more needs to be done.
“More needs to be done on the administrative side for schools to make sure that ESL and bilingual staff are deployed to schools that need them,” she said.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that will translate common state records and provide translation services for New Yorkers in Spanish and five other languages. Advocates for immigrants praised the move, while conservative groups said special programs paid for by government hinder assimilation of immigrants and the speed with which they learn English.
Cristian Salazar for the Associated Press