talk about bilingual ed
NY Daily News
November 3, 2004
The New York City school system owes foreign language-speaking parents some
straight talk about English. To wit: If they want their children to have the
best chance of learning America's native tongue, they should avoid enrolling
their kids in traditional bilingual classes.
Parents should instead place their children in English as a Second Language
instruction. The two programs use different amounts of English in the classroom.
ESL students get the greater exposure to the language, and Education Department
statistics show that they have far higher success rates in reaching English
ESL classes are taught in English, but students get extra help in their native
tongues. Bilingual classes are taught in both the kids' own language and
English. The result: In each of the past five years, the percentage of ESL
students passing the state's English proficiency exam has been double that of
children in bilingual classes.
In 2001, for example, 25% of ESL students passed, while only 13% of the
bilingual ed kids made the grade. Last year, after the state introduced a
tougher test, the ESL pass rate dropped to a dismal 9%, but the bilingual rate
plummeted even further: to a rock-bottom 3%.
Department officials are at a loss to explain why ESL programs have steadily
bested bilingual ed in helping children learn English. While a lay person might
conclude otherwise, top assessor Lori Mei says the statistics don't necessarily
prove that the more English students use in the classroom, the more English they
learn. Maybe ESL kids just have better teachers, she says. Or maybe they're
smarter. Or maybe they had instruction in English before they came to this
country. Or maybe they were more literate in their native languages.
Any or all those factors might be at work - maybe. But what's certain is
traditional bilingual classes, created by court order more out of a desire to
maintain cultural identity than to teach kids English, have failed students for
decades. What's also sure is that ESL children do twice as well on proficiency
tests as kids in bilingual classes.
When he was running for City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg said he wanted to create
immersion classes - crash courses using only English - for students with limited
English proficiency. The statistics suggest his instinct was right, but
immersion is neither realistic nor legally permissible. He has since backed off
such a drastic overhaul.
But now Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariņa is reviewing the city's bilingual
programs with an eye toward improving teacher training and standardizing the
curriculum. She also is studying expanding dual-language classes, which contain
an equal number of English and non-English speakers. Unfortunately, she's not
contemplating a top-to-bottom overhaul after determining what works and what
The statistics say ESL gets superior, if still poor, results. Parents choosing
one of these programs should know about that.