Education is Declining
From El Diario
November 25, 2002
By Claudia Zequeira
Bilingual education has suffered epic defeats on the national level:
in California and Arizona it was eliminated completely in 1998 and
2000 respectively, while in Colorado this month voters supported
a referendum giving bilingual education a limit of one year. In
each situation, the change has been in favor of immersion or English
as a second language (ESL) programs.
In New York City with its liberal traditionsthe transition
to a different way to teach immigrant populations has been less
obvious, but the issue is certainly in the air.
One of the ways that this change can be seen is in the declining
number of public school teachers who are registered as bilingual,
while the lists of teachers registered in English as a second language
continue to grow.
This year, according to facts from the Department of Education,
at the elementary level 1,618 teachers with bilingual education
certificates registered, while in 2001 there were 1, 656. On the
secondary level, during the same years, the number of English as
a second language teachers climbed from 949 to 981.
The drop, according to Ofelia Garcia, a professor of bilingual
education at Columbia Universitys Teachers College, is due
(among other things) to the lack of support for bilingual teachers,
who often lack the basic materials to do their jobs.
"At times teachers move into English as a second language
because they become tired of working in a system that each day gives
less value to bilingualism, and in a system where there are no monetary
incentives," she said. Besides the normal certification process,
bilingual teachers need to take additional courses to obtain their
license, but they will earn the same salary as a teacher without
The movement towards English as a second language also can be felt
if one observes the quantity of students that enter the system.
Although parents, as of 2001, can technically choose the type of
education program that they desire for their children (bilingual
education, English as a second language or immersion) statistics
show that new immigrants are being directed to English as a second
language programs more and more often.
Department of Education statistics from 2002 confirm that in general,
the percentage of high school students inscribed in bilingual programs
dropped from 64 percent to 48 percent during the years 2000-01 and
2001-02, a fall of 16 percent.
Also, the presence of English as a second language programs is
becoming more and more evident in districts that traditionally offered
To cite a specific case, in Washington Heights district 6
during 1999 and 2000, 79.1 percent of students recently arrived
in the country were inscribed in bilingual education and 18.7 percent
in English as a second language programs. During 2000 and 2001,
74.7 percent of recently arrived students were inscribed in bilingual
programs, while 24.3 percent were enrolled in English as a second
Shelly Rappaport, an analyst from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense
and Education Fund, argues in a recent report that the change is
due to the fact that "little or no information is offered to
parents, and decisions are taken, in the majority of cases, by bureaucrats."
The general abandonment of bilingual education also appears to
be related to the weak efforts of the Education Department to recruit
teachers that are certified in bilingual education.
In a report presented by the Department of Education to the city
in December 2000, ex-chancellor Harold Levy asked for just $653,000
for paraprofessionals who wanted to become certified inbilingual
education. For immersion programs, however, he asked for $800,000.
"The money, in the end, wasnt given to anyone, but the
numbers reflect the systems priorities," said Rappaport.
At the university level, reforms have also taken place that have
contributed to the reduction in the number of bilingual teachers
coming from higher education departments. City Colleges admission
policy for its bilingual education program, for example, stipulates
that the candidates need to pass the state test that teachers need
to take in order to receive certification, before applying for the
program. This is because a law passed in 1997 permits the state
to close bilingual programs in which 80 percent of the students
do not pass the test.
"Before, they accepted everyone. Now, the universities think
that it isnt worth it to admit people that wont pass
and run the risk of having their programs shut down," said
The public school system has also favored teacher recruitment methods
that place emphasis on general teaching techniques, not on bilingual
Teaching Fellows, a program created by the citys ex-chancellor
of education, has been able to solve the problem of not having enough
local teachers, but evidence suggests that the efforts torecruit
bilingual teachers has not been as energetic as they could be.
Teaching Fellows received a total of $760,000 from Fleet Bank last
year to recruit about 100 bilingual teachers. As of now, according
to Rappaport, they have recruited 59.
"Those who come into the program are encouraged to get a general
license, not a bilingual one," explained Rappaport. Also, according
to the report, teachers that express an interest in bilingual programs
are told that there are too few people like them to justify creating
a masters degree program in bilingual education at the universities
that have ties to Teaching Fellows.
In fact, City College is the only university in the city that has
a large enough group to offer a masters in bilingual education.
The biannual report by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, published in November
2002, affirms that the goal of the current administration is that
students should be able to leave bilingual education classes in
less than three years.
Translated from Spanish by Erica Pearson
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