JULY 2003

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Where Is the Plan?
From El Diario

By Fernando Ferrer

This week, mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promises to present his guarded plan for bilingual education, which will affect the hundreds of thousands of students that learn English in our public school system.

It's about time. This plan has been delayed twice already in less than a year.
The delays, the little recourses and the political intrigue have plagued bilingual education since its commencement in 1974.

Two years of legal battle ensued against the [Department] of Education of the City of New York. ASPIRA, an organization which works for the development of Puertorican and Latino youth, was represented by the Puertorican Fund for Legal Defense and Education (PRLDEF). ASPIRA maintained that a Federal Court should order that, among other things, a program should be established in order that the Spanish speaking students “can participate effectively in the learning process” in their native language.

And for almost thirty years since the Decree de Consent of ASPIRA was emitted, all the sectors involved have engaged in one of the worst battles of “the Cultural Wars." Unfortunately, as in many wars the innocents and the truth are those that suffer most.

The “new” most recent plan for bilingual education is designed through a political adjustment. After several years of attacks against bilingualism on the part of the California politician Ron Unz and other extremists on the right, the then mayor Rudy Giuliani, impressed by the equally right wing ideologies in New York, promised to “clean up” bilingual education and designated a commission directed by ex-Vice Mayor Randy Mastro.

According to Dr. Luis O. Reyes, an old education activist and ex-member of the [Department of Education of the City of New York] the negotiations – mostly secret – took place among the PRLDEF and old functionaries of the Giuliani and Mastro Administration. The result: a dissolution of the original focus towards bilingualism as it was specified in the Decree of Consent of ASPIRA.

Then-Chancellor of education Harold Levy announced a new plan of “informed decision” for children that technically need bilingual education, which includes programs like “Immersion in English”. The two key characteristics of this new plan were making information available to parents on studies and the designation of $75 million dollars to finance new scholarly programs and to orient the parents.

It seemed like a victory, but there were 2 small exceptions: the $75 million were never given and, in many schools, the diverse bilingual programs were never implemented, leaving parents without options.


"All this happened behind closed doors and the community benefited very little.” Those who were
seeking to dismantle bilingual education left winning effortlessly.

Nowadays, when it comes to the education and future of the 40 percent of public school students that speak a diverse group of foreign languages, the decisions continue being made behind closed doors.

On the 15th of January 2003, the day on which Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated, mayor Bloomberg announced in Harlem a dramatic restructuring of the public school system, including a change in curriculum. He also promised that, in the span of 60 days, he would present a plan to better the education of English Language Learners. This date arrived and nothing happened. A second date was also passed without any action.

When parents asked about their plans for bilingual education, during the recent meeting in Manhattan of a panel on education and politics, Chancellor Klein responded, “mayor Bloomberg will have an announcement in the next month.” Well, we are now in that next month.
Margaret McHugh, who directs the Immigration Coalition of New York, has united with the organization Defenders of the Children and 8 other groups to take this debate into public light.

“Our initiative seeks to form an open dialogue on how to improve the results of this type of student, that have the highest rate of school desertion in the public system,” said McHugh in spreading 10 point plan in order to reform the education of students that learn English as a second language.

Parents must have real options among high quality programs that receive adequate funds in the School Districts. The department of education must obey federal law and the Decree of consent of ASPIRA. The English as a Second Language (ESL) programs need to improve. It is necessary to contract bilingual teachers and that are qualified and certified in ESL. They should not continue sending English Language Learners to special education programs. These should be some of the reforms. It’s reasonable. Year after year and promise after promise, it is the same old story with bilingual education. The political ideology continues imposing scientific dates.

For those who say that their decisions are based on the facts before the politics, here are the facts: The innovator Estudio Collier of 1995 made a great impact on the large scale of various learning programs of a second language by the United States, the students with the greatest success were in a bilingual program for a long time. The students with the least success were in classes of “English Immersion” or in bilingual programs that were discontinued in 2 or 3 years with no regard to the needs of the children.

For the first time, we put to the side the political ideology and analyze the facts. And, one day, we will bring this debate to the public forum instead of behind a closed door.

Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs.

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