New York City Plans an Overhaul of Bilingual Education

NEW YORK — Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew is preparing to step into a political vortex in the fall with a plan to overhaul bilingual education in New York City.

Senior school administrators say the effort will improve education for immigrant children without compromising the commitment to teach them in their native languages. They say the plan has nothing to do with a voter referendum recently passed in California that, barring a successful court challenge, will end 30 years of bilingual education there in a couple of months.

Rather, they say, the plan is a response to years of criticism of the city’s bilingual-education programs — which now serve 155,000 students speaking 145 languages — and to the drive to raise academic standards for all 1.1 million students citywide.

The city spends $300 million annually on bilingual-education programs, which have been criticized for the slow pace at which some students learn English. Judith Rizzo, deputy chancellor for instruction, who is overseeing the plan, said her staff would work through the summer and present recommendations and cost estimates to the Board of Education in the fall.

Among possible changes, she said, are adding English-language classes and expanding classroom time for students in upper grades, who master the language much more slowly than younger children. That could mean after-school, weekend or summer classes to supplement what is sometimes only three hours of English lessons per week, she said.

The board may also seek approval from the state Education Department to continue teaching English to some students who have joined mainstream classes after completing three years of bilingual education. Normally, a waiver is required to continue any form of bilingual education beyond three years.

But completing bilingual education may become more difficult. Dr. Rizzo’s staff is reviewing the rigor of the test used to determine jects appeared to be low, she said. Only about 20 percent of children in elementary and middle schools who were classified as limited English-proficient scored at or above their grade level on citywide math tests in their native language. That compares with a citywide average of 63.1 percent who tested at or above grade level on the English-language version of the exam, the California Achievement Test.

Dr. Rizzo said students who are not fluent in English need better preparation to meet the higher standards administrators want to impose. Among other changes, Crew has been driving to raise the reading ability of all third graders and is seeking to end the practice of “social promotion” to higher grades.

In addition, the state is tightening high school graduation requirements, and by 2000 will require even students classified as limited English-proficient to take the Regents English exam to graduate.

Anthony Lopez, executive director of Aspira, the Washington-based education and advocacy group whose lawsuit led to the establishment of bilingual education in New York, said he was already wary of the city’s plan. He asserted that adding English classes would be a harbinger of “essentially English immersion,” which would go against the consent decree’s efforts to preserve students’ native languages.

Dr. Rizzo stressed that the school system was not backing away from bilingual education and said officials were also examining “dual language” schools as a possible model for bilingual education, for example.

New York City has five such schools, all Spanish-English, with a Chinese-English one being planned. Native and non-native English speakers are taught in English and another language. Dr. Rizzo and administrators at those schools say non-English-speaking students learn English quicker and better in an environment in which English speakers are learning Spanish, too.

At Public School 11 in Queens, about a tenth of the school’s 1,300 pupils take part in the dual-language program. Students whose best language is English are taught in Spanish for part of the day, and students who speak Spanish learn English for part of the day. The classes join in activities and students converse in both languages, said Vivian Anemoyanis, the principal.

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