New York stays the course with bilingual education

While a recent referendum in California is set to virtually eliminate bilingual education in that state, educators and public officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are preparing to improve or expand their bilingual programs, according to a report in The New York Times.

The plans will allow children to learn academic subjects in their native languages as young as age 3 in New York and, for some, the opportunity to take college-preparatory examinations in their native languages.

Despite the general support of the programs in the tristate area, officials are reviewing these programs and looking to make sure that students are still learning English as they receive instruction in other subjects in their different languages.

In New York City, 7,100 South Asian students needed to be taught in Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi last year. This year, a school in South Ozone Park in Queens started the state’s first bilingual program for Punjabi-speaking middle school students.

Despite support from most educators in the state, including the teachers’ union, for the city’s bilingual-education programs, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has expressed criticism of them and has praised the California initiative. However, he said of the California program following passage of that state’s referendum, “The time limit they imposed is an unrealistic one.” The referendum limits students to one year of being taught in their native language.

“I think the idea that bilingual education should be temporary is a good idea,” he said. “Bilingual education should not be permanent.”

In New York, the state spends 88 million a year on bilingual education for 194,000 students, most of whom live in New York City.

While New York is expected to increase the number of teachers qualified to teach bilingual education, it is also increasing the minimum amount of time, which is now 180 minutes a week, that a student spends in bilingual education classes.

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