NY Plan: More Class Time In English

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills yesterday unveiled a plan that would as much as triple the amount of English instruction required for children with limited ability to read and speak English.

Coming after California residents voted overwhelmingly to eliminate bilingual education, the New York proposal is designed to help students pass tougher English Regents exams.

“There is a much tougher test in front of them now so we really have to exert ourselves to make sure they are prepared,” Mills said. “The current regulations that mandate 180 minutes of English instruction a week are just not enough.”

Currently, students who are found to have a limited proficiency in English must receive 180 minutes per week in speaking, reading and writing in English – which equals roughly four to five class periods per week.

Mills’ plan – which would also apply to children taking English as a Second Language classes – would mandate doubling, and in some cases, tripling that. Newly arriving non-native English speakers would receive three periods of English a day. Others – including children in ESL programs – would receive two periods daily.

Mills said the increased English classes would not crowd out other required subjects because high schools typically offer time for 32 courses during the four years of high school, even though a student may earn a Regents diploma by completing only 22 courses. The additional English instruction would take place during time students otherwise would use for electives.

The Regents – who must approve the plan for it to be implemented – are scheduled to discuss the proposal tomorrow in Albany.

All students entering 11th grade this fall must pass the English Regents exam to graduate high school under the state plan being gradually implemented to stiffen academic standards. But some advocates worry that making the test too difficult will put high school diplomas out of reach for those whose native language is not English.

The New York proposal comes just over a month after a high-profile ballot initiative in California was passed to essentially replace that state’s bilingual education with a one-year English immersion program. Supporters of Proposition 227, which passed 69 percent to 31 percent, say bilingual education has failed, resulting in non-English speaking-students – most of whom speak Spanish as their primary language – falling behind.

Although Mills’ proposal drew criticism from at least one Hispanic organization, Mills called his proposal a “strong defense” of bilingual education.

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