September 27, 2012
A year after the State Education Department chided the city for failing to meet the needs of English language learners, city Department of Education officials say they have made important progress toward their goals.
That’s what Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi told members of the City Council today during a hearing about the city’s progress toward fixing shortcomings in its ELL services. She reported that the city is on track to fulfill all of the promises it outlined in an ambitious remediation plan submitted to the state last year.
It was the first time the city had provided a public update about the Corrective Action Plan, which the state requested because of persistently low test scores and graduation outcomes for ELLs in city schools.
Today, Rello-Anselmi said the Department of Education has made significant strides, most significantly launching half of the 125 bilingual programs it promised to open by next year. One challenge facing the expansion of bilingual programs is a shortage of teachers certified to work in them, officials said. But they said the city was on track to staff the new programs because it is exempting the positions from hiring restrictions and offering to pay for training for current teachers who want to become certified in bilingual education or English as a second language instruction.
Department officials said the city was on track to hit the rest of the targets in its Corrective Action Plan, which include testing students’ language proficiency soon after they enroll and giving principals principals and staff more training about issues facing ELLs.
But the plan focused only on technical compliance issues, and council members had broader questions about the status of English language learners in city schools. How many immigrant parents are going to parent teacher conferences? they asked. How are they getting information in their native languages? How are schools helping immigrant students adjust to the new culture? Are they partnering with community groups? Why must new immigrants take state tests in English as soon as they have been in the country for a year? How are services different for immigrants originating from different countries?
City officials offered brief responses but declined to make those questions the focus of their appearance before the council’s education and immigration committees.
The hearing offered a rare view into ELL issues. Elsa Cruz Pearson, a staff attorney for Advocates for Children of New York, said the main way advocates get data is through an annual report that the Office of English Language Learners submits to the state. But the city was supposed to have submitted a report in the spring, and it so far hasn’t done that, she said.
And somewhat uncharacteristically, city officials did not bring along a PowerPoint presentation to highlight positive department data during their testimony. Councilman David Greenfield called attention to the omission.
“The automatic question is, why aren’t we trumpeting the stats of how great things are?” Greenfield said. “And the answer must be because things aren’t that great for ELLs.”
Angélica Infante, CEO of the Office of Language Learners, said the city still has plenty of room for growth, later noting that the state cited all but one of the city’s 32 school districts as needing improvement.
“The big corrective action plan we have is about compliance and we have made a lot of gains in that area,” Infante said. “That’s all we’re talking about.”