Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised yesterday to make English-language instruction for children a priority in public education, returning to a theme of his campaign.
“Parents who don’t have a great command of the English language know that their children will be left behind unless they get that, and we are not doing it,” he said on his weekly radio call-in program on WABC. “I’ve watched in other countries with big immigrant communities and that’s the first thing they do: total immersion. If you don’t learn the language you can’t do anything else.”
The mayor’s comments come as he continues complex negotiations with state legislators that would give him direct control over the school system. Some of those legislators, including members of the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caucus, have indicated that they would not support Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to gain control of the schools unless he promised to maintain the current levels of city funding for education.
“I just want to get control of the school system and I can tell you we will make sure that every child speaks English,” Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday. “This is an English-speaking country and if you don’t speak and read English you won’t get a great job. You won’t get any job.”
Mr. Bloomberg, as usual, took the opportunity to criticize the school system in general, saying, “If the police damaged our children the way the educational system did, we’d go shoot the police commissioner.” Asked about that comment later, he said, “I don’t think I’d shoot him because he would shoot me back.” He then added that the Police Department operates under a “customer service mentality” that the school system does not have. “And now’s the time to do something about it.”
Senator Velmanette Montgomery, a Brooklyn Democrat, and a member of the caucus, said she could not understand how the mayor could accomplish his goal without adding more resources “Right now,” she said, “we don’t have sufficient teachers to help children make the bridge between the language that they bring and English ? and we have more than just one language.”