With the Board of Education’s own statistics showing that bilingual education fails thousands of immigrant students, Schools Chancellor Harold Levy is set to unveil a plan tomorrow that will give some kids an escape hatch. That’s good. But by not scrapping the bilingual program outright, he will condemn thousands of other students to educational stagnation.

Levy is expected to allow some ? the Board of Education has not said how many ? of the city’s 177,000 students with limited English proficiency to choose intensive English training in separate classes during an extended school day.

This method has worked such educational wonders in California that Arizona voters this year banned bilingual programs and ordered them replaced by English-immersion courses. New York kids are bound to benefit from this approach, too. But in offering it only as an option, the chancellor is adding a sound program without subtracting a bad one.

It means that city schools will be using three separate ? and competing ? methods of teaching English to immigrant kids: bilingual education (students are taught almost exclusively in their native languages), English as a Second Language (students spend most of their day in regular classes and receive extra English training) and the new immersion program.

Teachers in each of these programs require different certification; ESL teachers are not qualified to teach bilingual courses, and vice versa. The bilingual program costs $46 million a year and requires 4,219 teachers and administrators, many of whom are not properly certified. Levy’s plan would retain these liabilities, while adding the costs of an extended school day and more teachers.

Bilingual ed has been around for 25 years, but until this year, city educrats masked its failure by clumping it together statistically with ESL. This year, however, the board finally provided a partial breakdown. Here’s what it shows:

Only 73% of youngsters who started bilingual ed in kindergarten were ready to be mainstreamed into regular classes within the state-mandated three years; that’s 11 percentage points below students in English as a Second Language classes. And the gap gets wider as students get older. Only 60% of first-grade bilingual students were mainstreamed within three years, compared with 80% in ESL; 41.6% to 76.1% among second-graders, and 44% to 70% in the third grade.

This proves what common sense dictates: Youngsters learn English faster when they are taught in English.

California, with 1.4 million immigrant students, converted to English immersion two years ago, amid predictions of catastrophe. Instead, 28% of the state’s second-graders now read at grade level, compared with 19% last year; their math proficiency has jumped from 27% to 41%.

But bilingual ed is mandated and deeply entrenched in New York. Board of Ed President William Thompson approves of the program. “We couldn’t get rid of it if we wanted to because of all the consent decrees and state laws, he said. You just can’t.”

Yes, you can. But it won’t be easy.

Thompson and Levy ? and the politicians they would need to scrap bilingual ed ? seem to think it is a sacred cow among immigrant, and especially Hispanic, constituents.

Maybe that once was true, especially when the Board of Ed was hiding the statistical truth. But a poll by the Hispanic Federation this year revealed that only 47% of the city’s Latinos support bilingual ed. That’s down from 53% last year. And a Zogby International survey two years ago found that 79% of New Yorkers polled supported legislation requiring “all public school education to be conducted in English.”

That should provide incentive for City Hall to go to court to fight the 25-year-old consent decree mandating bilingual ed and for the Legislature to stop granting waivers ? some 65,000 a year ? to students who are not able to meet the state’s three-year deadline for entering mainstream classes.

And it most certainly should give Levy second thoughts about offering a beneficial English-only curriculum to just some students while consigning others to the bilingual morass.

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