DECEMBER 2002

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Bilingual 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 traditions—the 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 University’s 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 similar preparation.

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 bilingual classes.

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 language.

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, wasn’t given to anyone, but the numbers reflect the system’s 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 College’s 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 isn’t worth it to admit people that won’t pass and run the risk of having their programs shut down," said Garcia.

The public school system has also favored teacher recruitment methods that place emphasis on general teaching techniques, not on bilingual education.

Teaching Fellows, a program created by the city’s 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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