Language Learners Let Down by
Board of Education
for Children claims English Language Learner (ELL) students
are receiving an inferior education. The organization, which
provides advice and legal services in the hopes of giving all
New York City students fair access to a public school education,
recently released a report entitled Creating a Formula for
Success. The paper details the hardships faced by immigrant students
in New York. According to their research, current ELLs have
the highest dropout rate of any group of students in the city31.7
to Chancellor Harold Levys 2000 Report on the Education of
English Language Learners, ELLs make up about 15 percent of New York public school students. These
children, who are not fluent enough in English to enter mainstream
classes, are often placed in the bilingual education or English
as a Second Language (ESL) programs of the schools they attend.
There they are taught academic subjects in their native language
(usually Spanish, Chinese or Korean), as well as receiving English
instruction. ESL and bilingual education stem from the 1974
Supreme Court case Lau vs. Nichols, where it was ruled that public schools had to adequately
educate all children, regardless of their English proficiency.
to Jill Chaifetz, Executive Director of Advocates for Children,
too much pressure is placed on students who have recently immigrated
to the U.S. They are expected to meet the same standard as native
students. They must master an entire new language, as well as
learn how to think from a different point of view. Chaifetz
uses global studies as an example. History is often taught from
the American perspective, and is especially difficult to excel
in for a student who has no American background. When ELLs do
not do as well as their English proficient counterparts, it
is common for impatient school advisors to suggest that they
drop out and leave, and get their GED. According to Chaifetz,
for those ELLs who drop out, prospects are dim. Many believe
they will work, but end up with dead-end jobs with little upward
mobility. In fact, the average earnings of someone with a GED
are roughly equivalent to those of someone who dropped out of
the 31.7 percent of ELLs who opt to leave school, the educational
services of the Board of Education have failed. While they are
supposed to transition into mainstream classes within four years,
many ELLs stay in bilingual education or ESL for up to nine
years, says Chaifetz. The struggle of ELLs toughened three years
ago when New York State completely revamped the Regents. The
new reforms require all students to pass the English Language
Arts Regents, as well as a new Math Regents. While the Board
of Regents raised the requirements that thousands of high schoolers
needed for a graduation diploma, the corresponding level of
educational support for ELLs was not raised. Although a 12-Step
Action Plan to help prepare ELLs for the new Regents was passed,
most of these students did not receive access to promised classes.
Yet they still have to meet requirements, remarks Chaifetz.
It seems as though there is a different level of accountability,
for the Board of Education than there is for ELLs, who must
somehow prepare themselves for the new, tougher Regents in order
to graduate high school.
cites several reasons as to why the New York City Board of Education
has failed many ELLs. In ESL, there is no prescribed curriculum.
Each teacher creates his or her own lessons, and there is no
guarantee who you get. While bilingual education has a consistent
curriculum citywide, many instructional materials such as textbooks
are not translated from English to the languages of ELL instruction.
Thus, there is no proper provision of services. Since both ESL
and bilingual education are received by roughly equal numbers
of students, neither program provides a distinct advantage.
severe shortage of teachers for ELLs is another problemover
3,000 are needed. Uncertified teachers often fill in these spaces.
Possibly, the scarcity is due to the fact that while ESL and
bilingual teachers are paid the same as general education teachers,
they have twice as much coursework to cover, says Chaifetz.
anomalous finding of Advocates for Childrens report is that
former ELLs actually have higher graduation rates than even
English proficient students (58% vs. 52.2%). This is probably
due to the fact that many of these former ELLs entered the programs
when they were younger and had enough time to develop fluency.
Therefore, Chaifetz reasons that some bilingual and ESL programs
are doing something right.
and a half years ago, the Board of Education approved a new
bilingual education program, which was outlined in Chancellor
Levys 2000 report. The new initiatives included: the Dual Language/Two-Way
Model, where ELLs would be taught alongside fluent English speakers;
Accelerated Academic English, where subjects would be taught
in English during and after regular school hours; and a higher
level of parental involvement. Chaifetz views highly intensive
ESL and the Dual Language program as a tremendous boon to the
education of ELLs. But very little happened because of budget
cuts, she says. The reforms would have cost $75 million.
believes that in addition to the Chancellors proposed reforms,
the Board of Education must increase accountability in specific
schools that have high levels of failing ELLs. Additionally,
individual students must receive individual attention. Chaifetz
recommends that in order for ELLs to be better served by the
public schools, reforms should focus on improving ESL instruction,
decreasing the number of uncertified teachers in the system,
reforming tests and increasing parental involvement.#