"Regardless of whether you think bilingual education is failing or working, it doesn't make any sense for the school system to be run by the courts rather than the chancellor," said Deputy Mayor Tony Coles, Giuliani's top education adviser. One out of six of New York State's 1.1 million school children are enrolled in bilingual education programs--half in bilingual classes and half in English as a Second Language programs.
The News also announced that millionaire Ron Unz from California is conducting a campaign to roll back bilingual education in New York as he successfully did in California two years ago and in Arizona last November. "We are talking with attorneys, and we're talking with individuals who might be willing to act as plaintiffs," said Unz, according to the News. He is pursuing similar challenges in Massachusetts and Colorado.
These announcements surround a debate over proposals from a mayor's task force that are now before the New York City Board of Education. The measure calls for ending automatic assignment of students with limited English skills to bilingual classes. The task force proposals include limiting participation in bilingual education courses to three years and setting up what are touted as "English immersion" classes where a student must ask three times what the teacher means before he or she is told the answer in their native language.
The mayor and Schools Chancellor Harold Levy are packaging their attack on bilingual education in terms of helping children learn English more quickly. "The thing we should do is make certain that bilingual education has some finite temporary part, because what we should be doing is making sure that the children that graduate from our schools are fluent in English so they have a better chance at success," Giuliani told reporters at a press conference at City Hall last December.
A study commissioned by the Board of Education complained that some students stay enrolled in the bilingual program for as long as nine years instead of the recommended three, and that the 4,000 bilingual teachers are neither enough nor adequately trained.
Removing automatic assignment to bilingual education, wrote Luis Reyes, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, is taking away the "right" that was won in 1974. Dr. Reyes, a former member of the Board of Education, and former deputy director of Aspira, a Latino community group, said if the measure is adopted there may be legal challenges to it.
Aspira, along with the Puerto Rican Educational and Defense Fund, brought a suit in 1972 against the state board of education. A consent decree in 1974 recognized the right of Spanish-speaking children to an education and mandated the board to identify children in need of bilingual education and to provide them with the teaching of reading, science, mathematics, and social studies in their native language, as well as intensive instruction in English. The decision said the board must train teachers to be fluent in a second language and to recruit bilingual teachers as part of an affirmative action program.
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