Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mr. Bloomberg Vs. the Aliens

Mayor Bloomberg's teflon armor continues to erode, as Sam Freedman questions his policy of closing high schools and disregarding the needs of the kids who attended them. The schools are supposedly no good (as always, through no fault of the mayor or his minions) and they must go (even if they're improving). The DoE has spoken. That's it. All the failing kids will go elsewhere, and magically become excellent.

But does this policy serve NYC communities? It certainly doesn't serve Lafayette High School's Chinese community. Where will they go, particularly if they're in need of bilingual services? Not Lafayette, because its new "academies" will not be providing it.

It turns out that ESL students don't tend to score as well on standardized tests. Why? Because they DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH. It turns out that if you DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH, tests are somewhat more difficult. And Mayor Bloomberg really ought to make some accommodations for these folks, because even though he's renamed their schools and kicked them out, they still DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH.

Several Lafayette administrators and teachers joined Mr. (Steve) Chung, the president of a Chinese-American community association, in devising a proposal for a school specializing in international studies and submitting it to the department. At a public meeting, residents of the neighborhood lauded it. Meetings with department officials, he said, went amicably and productively.

Then, a few weeks ago, the department announced its plan for restructuring Lafayette, which now has about 2,100 students, beginning in September 2007. It would contain three new schools — one emphasizing sports management, another focusing on film and music, and a third offering “expeditionary learning” under the aegis of Outward Bound. None will offer bilingual instruction, at least at the outset.

“This is an absolutely unacceptable choice,” Mr. Chung said. “These three schools have nothing to do with our community. They’re forcing the immigrant students out of their own neighborhood. New York is an immigrant city, but I think the education policy is not for us.”

This is typical of Tweed--it makes public claims to care about parent input, then does whatever it wishes and gives parental opinions no weight whatsoever. While it reorganizes Lafayette and utterly disregards its immigrant community, it's doing much the same elsewhere:

Several miles to the east, in East Flatbush, something remarkably similar was happening at Samuel J. Tilden High School, which serves roughly 2,400 students. Like Lafayette, Tilden will be dismantled beginning next fall, and replaced by a collection of small schools. Like Lafayette, Tilden has a large population of immigrant pupils, about 250, many from Haiti. That critical mass allowed Tilden to operate a bilingual program in Creole, and its students outperformed peers at comparable schools on various standardized tests.

The new version of Tilden, however, will have one high school run by Outward Bound and another, called the It Takes a Village Academy, that says it will “prepare students for college and meaningful careers while fostering an appreciation for diverse languages and cultures.”

At best, according to the department’s own projections, those schools will take in a total of 50 English-language learners, as students entitled to bilingual or E.S.L. classes are officially known, despite the heavy presence of Haitian and African immigrants in the surrounding neighborhood.

While it may be convenient for Mayor Bloomberg to shuffle these kids around, it's not any way to treat immigrants, and one way or another, we're all immigrants. It's not their fault they DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH, but in a couple of years they'll catch up.

Kicking them out of their community schools, whatever they may be called, is nothing short of reprehensible. It's true their test scores are inconvenient, and that's because they DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH, but they need time.

Let's send Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein to China. We'll have them take the NY State English Regents Exam in Chinese. I'll give them one year to prepare for it. I'll even provide them with the answers, which I wouldn't do for my own ESL students.

And I'll bet every cent I've ever had that my kids outscore Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein. It's time to stop penalizing our immigrant population and give them a little support. I'm sorry their test scores are low, but they DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH. They can do everything they need to do in schools, but they'll need a little time.

Is that too much to ask?

In the trade-off for the closing of Lafayette and Tilden, with the net loss of about 800 places in bilingual and E.S.L. classes, the Education Department has announced the opening of only one small school geared to immigrant pupils in the entire borough. And even now, less than two weeks before eighth graders throughout the city must submit their applications to high schools, the department has not revealed the location of that school, the Multicultural High School. For all any parent or child knows at this point, it could be anywhere from Bay Ridge to Brownsville.

It behooves this mayor to do better. I know kids who wake up at four in the morning to trek to our school, and we ought to have fewer, not more of them.

It's cold today in Mr. Bloomberg's New York.

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