Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged the Board of Education yesterday to adopt the recommendations of a task force he appointed that proposes a sweeping overhaul of the city’s 26-year-old bilingual education program.
Mayor Giuliani released the task force’s report yesterday, just a day before Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy, a member of the task force, is scheduled to make his own recommendations for revamping the $46 million-a-year bilingual education program to a board subcommittee.
The timing of the release seemed to be an attempt by Mr. Giuliani and Randy M. Mastro, chairman of the Mayor’s Task Force on Bilingual Education, to set the agenda for the board’s discussion on the issue and put pressure on board members who are reluctant to make drastic changes to a program supported by many of the city’s Hispanic leaders and civil rights groups.
The centerpiece of the task force proposal calls for ending the automatic assignment of students with limited English skills to bilingual classes, where they take subjects like mathematics and social studies in their native language. It would also allow parents to choose at the outset whether they want their children in programs like English as a second language, in which speaking English is emphasized and in which students switch more rapidly into mainstream classes.
“The thing we should do is make certain that bilingual education has some finite temporary part, because what we should be doing is making sure that the children that graduate from our schools are fluent in English so they have a better chance at success,” Mr. Giuliani said at a news conference at City Hall. He was flanked by Mr. Mastro, Mr. Levy and other task force members.
Other recommendations would create a third, more English-intensive option in addition to bilingual and English-as-a-second-language classes and make it easier for students to pass the test that allows them to enter mainstream classes.
The task force’s recommendations come two months after a separate Board of Education study found substantial problems in the bilingual education program. The study found that students were being retained for as long as nine years in a program that is supposed to keep students for only three years, and that the force of 4,000 bilingual teachers was inadequately trained and skilled.
One in six of the city’s 1.1 million schoolchildren are enrolled in bilingual education programs, about half in bilingual classes and half in E.S.L.
Mr. Levy has been tight-lipped about the proposal he will present, but board officials who spoke on condition of anonymity have said he will propose giving parents more choice and creating a third English-intensive option. He said that he wanted to release the details to board members at the subcommittee meeting today.
William C. Thompson, president of the Board of Education, said that he spoke with Mr. Levy yesterday about his recommendations and that they did not appear to be anything that could not win the full approval of the board after public hearings.
Mr. Levy will have some recommendations that were not in the task force proposal, including the expansion of a language instruction method known as dual language, officials said. The program mixes native speakers and English speakers in an effort to give English-speaking elementary-school children fluent command of a foreign language. It also tries to preserve the native languages of children from foreign backgrounds, not eradicate them.
About 176,000 of the city’s students are enrolled in some form of bilingual or E.S.L instruction. About half of them are enrolled in bilingual classes, in which they are automatically placed if they fail a test of English competence.
In a letter to Mr. Levy and board members, Luis O. Reyes, an assistant professor of education at Brooklyn College who supports bilingual education, said that he did not have a problem with enhanced E.S.L. But he expressed concern about other parts of Mr. Levy’s pending proposal. He said removing automatic assignment to bilingual instruction would take away “the right” of a hard-fought battle. Dr. Reyes, a former member of the Board of Education and a former deputy director of Aspira, a Hispanic education and advocacy group, has said that there may be legal challenges to some of the proposed changes if the board adopts them.