Mayor Giuliani turned up the heat yesterday in the debate over bilingual education, saying that students who do not speak English should be taking classes in English within two years.

The Board of Education needs “a rule of thumb that says two years of bilingual education to teach you English — not 10 to 12 years,” Giuliani said.

Shikha Dalal (r.) argues with California millionaire Ron Unz over Mayor Giuliani’s bilingual education task force. The Board of Education’s own report, released last month, found that fewer than half of non-English-speaking students were still taking bilingual classes after three years, while some didn’t make the leap even after eight or nine years.

Giuliani derided those findings yesterday as a task force he formed to review the city’s bilingual program held its first hearing at City Hall.

The task force heard from about 25 speakers split on both sides of the debate, including Ron Unz, a California millionaire who financed a successful drive to end bilingual education in that state.

Supporters of bilingual language instruction dismissed the hearing as a “sham” ? and called the task force a “political circus” bent on dissolving bilingual classes.

“It’s political theater of the first order,” said Juan Figueroa, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which successfully sued in 1974 to force the city to create bilingual classes. Figueroa said he would fight any city efforts to dismantle bilingual education.

Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo (D-Bronx) agreed. “Don’t come to me today to say biligual ed is failing. It’s the education system as a whole that’s failing,” she said.

Supporters of bilingual classes argue that students who go through the program score higher on standardized tests than do U.S.-born English speakers.

Parents whose children do not speak English now have two options: bilingual classes, which are taught in a student’s native language, or English-as-a-second-language classes, which are taught in English.

The mayor’s task force is proposing a third option in a draft report: immersion classes in English for one year only.

Randy Mastro, the group’s chairman and a former deputy mayor, has been vocal in calling bilingual education a failure.

The task force is planning to come up with its formal recommendations by the end of the month. But any changes to bilingual education must be made by the Board of Education. The board’s own bilingual education subcomittee is leaning toward far less ambitious reforms.

Parents on both sides of the issue complained yesterday that their children were not learning English fast enough.

Munira Daoud, who came to Queens from Sudan 14 months ago, said it took her more than a year to move her second-grade daughter into an all-English classroom at Public School 17 in Astoria.

“I complained all last year. This year I started again. Finally, this week, they moved her. But you have to complain,” she said. “That is not how it should be.”

Original Publication Date: 10/18/00

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