Tuesday, July 24, 2018

If Carranza's Concerned with Inequality, He Can't Ignore Part 154

There's an interesting feature on Chancellor Richard Carranza in the Atlantic right now. Clearly, in tackling inequality and segregation in our schools, he's got his work cut out for him. The writer, who seems to know nothing whatsoever about actual NYC education, compares him to Joel Klein. Were I Carranza, I'd sue for damages. We don't know that much about Carranza, but it's clear he's not a simple corporate mouthpiece.

The issue of segregation is a third rail, and no matter which approach you take, someone is bound to hate you for it. It's particularly tough in this climate, with a President intent on moving us back to the 19th century. No one knows that better than union. We're now clearly in the sights of the Koch Brothers and Walmart, who may as well make the rules for the astoundingly pro-corporate, anti-worker SCOTUS.

I see discrimination played out every single day in my work. No, I'm not complaining about my administration. I'm talking about the third year of CR Part 154, which reduces direct English instruction by 33-100%, and replaces it with, essentially, nothing whatsoever (or perhaps even less than that). In high schools, we used to be required to give beginners three full periods of English instruction daily. Now we can give them as few as one period a day. And once they aren't beginners anymore, we can reduce that to zero.

We replace these English classes with nothing. But for each one, we dump an ESL teacher into one of their "core content" classes. Alternatively, we can place a single dual-certified teacher in. So that teacher might take 45 minutes to teach fractions to a native English speaker. In that same 45 minutes, the dual certified teacher, or the pair of teachers, is expected to teach both fractions and English to English Language Learners (ELLs).

I have been teaching English to ELLs for decades. It probably won't surprise you when I say it takes more time, not less, to teach concepts to people who don't understand the language you're learning. The possibility of teaching both the concept and the language in the same time it takes for native speakers to learn the concept is remote indeed. Not only that, but it's a blatantly stupid expectation.

In fact, I'd argue it's discrimination. Of course it's not Carranza's fault, since he had nothing to do with the regulation. I don't think it was the intention of the Regents to discriminate either. The rationale I've heard from them has been that they wanted to make sure students were focused on actual subject matter, the implication being that English is not a subject. I wouldn't call that discriminatory. Of course it's completely wrong, if not totally idiotic, so that's not much of a defense.

A friend sent me this comment:

 ...the rationale is to keep foreigners in their place. Lock them into dead end jobs and shove them into certain neighborhoods. This is especially true if they are of color. All of those wonderful sentiments about coming to America for a fresh start, the Statue of Liberty as a great symbol of hope- are a thing of the past. These days, it is called “stay in your lane and ensure that your neighbors look like you.” If they cannot speak English or have access to education, that is the first step.

I don't think that was the actual intent, but the effect is not much different. I can't speak for the Regents, but I think their focus was not so much on black and brown as it was on green. There is a shortage of ESL teachers, and every five classes that disappear under Part 154 means one fewer ESL teacher is needed. That means schools save money, and that means the state saves money, I suppose.

The piece in the Atlantic mentions that Carranza learned English as a child. It's actually a lot easier to do that than it is for the high school students I teach. Language acquisition ability begins a rapid decline around puberty. That's why Carranza speaks unaccented English while my students may never do that. But the fact is they need more support, not less, and this has been affirmed by resolutions passed by both UFT and NYSUT.

If Carranza is truly concerned about inequality, he ought not to ignore the ELLs. They are his brothers and sisters, they are our children, and Part 154 is an abomination. Maybe it's time to sue the state for discrimination. If he needs someone to testify, I'm available.
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