Article Published in the New York Daily News
As the rest of the country moves away from bilingual education, shouldn’t New York City consider doing the same? Yes, and the sooner the better.
A new city Board of Education study shows students in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs strongly outperforming their peers in bilingual education. It’s common sense that children learn languages best when they are young, and English-immersion and ESL programs do the job better than bilingual education, a go-slow approach that segregates English learners in Spanish-only classrooms, often for 6-8 years or even longer.
The soon-to-be-released study followed some 16,000 English learners’ progress since 1990. It found that 54% of students who entered ESL programs in kindergarten scored above the 50th percentile in reading when they reached the 7th grade, compared with under 40% of students who entered bilingual programs at the same time, according to Education Week. In math, the gap was even greater, 70% versus 51%.
Just as devastating to bilingual education advocates is the finding that ESL students were more than 10% more likely to reach English proficiency in three years than bilingual students.
Two years ago, California passed a proposition effectively ending bilingual education statewide. At the time, there was still some doubt as to whether the alternative would work any better. But voters could see that bilingual education wasn’t working very well, evidenced by less than 7 percent of English learners successfully graduating back into English-language classrooms each year.
Now the verdict is in. California’s second grade English learners have improved their standardized test scores substantially — by an average of 9 percentile points in reading and 14 percentile points in math — since they started teaching in English.
Largely as a result of English immersion’s success in California, bilingual education reform has become one of the fastest moving public policy issues in the nation. Arizona has a proposition on the ballot this November based on California’s law. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Colorado and Illinois have all taken major steps to limit bilingual education. Now its time for New York to make a change that will help its quarter of a million English learners to learn the vital English language skills they need to succeed in this country.
According to official Department of Education documents obtained by the Lexington Institute, many of the Big Apple’s bilingual education programs seem to care about everything but teaching English. In Community School District 4’s Ambos-a-Dos bilingual program, English learners don’t even begin to use written English in reading or language arts classes until the fifth grade. In Community School District 2’s bilingual program, an outside consultant was hired to teach students Chinese brush painting, Tai Chi and introduction to Chinese musical instruments.
And bilingual programs at Manhattan’s Liberty High School included such initiatives as developing multicultural awareness assessments, designing a new instrument to measure students’ self-esteem, and a faculty research project on methodology in the teaching of Chinese.
Such activities may be interesting for the teachers, but seem of questionable value to English learners at such a critical time in their education. Last year, when two-thirds of the Big Apple’s fourth graders performed “below proficient” on the English Language Arts Test, there was much well-grounded concern about the poor showing by Hispanic and other language-minority young people. In the Central Harlem school district, 81% of fourth-graders scored below proficient, as did 72% in East Harlem. As former Congressman Herman Badillo and other Hispanic leaders were quick to point out, the pattern was similar in many other areas of the city with high Hispanic and other language minority populations.
Catching up after falling behind in school is difficult enough for any young people. To be required to do so while segregated in the city-sponsored boondoggle of bilingual education makes a tough situation even worse.
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