NYC Plan: More Money, Less English

For years up until 1997, California’s political leaders and teacher unions had attempted to reform or reduce the system of Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education,” which all recognized as disastrous. A few hundred fanatic supporters of the program successfully blocked all substantive change in a state of over thirty million. As a result, Prop. 227 dismantled the system completely in June 1998.

For years up until 1999, Arizona’s educational leaders had attempted to reform or reduce bilingual education in that state, but were similarly blocked by a few hundred fanatic supporters. Again, as a consequence, Prop. 203 in November 203 had a far easier time dismantling the system completely.

Now, this history appears likely to recur in New York City. Some months ago, spurred by the dramatic academic gains of over a million immigrant students in California, allies of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani floated the possibility of significant, though hardly radical, changes in New York’s Spanish-almost-only programs. Months of negotiation and rivalry among different educational power-centers, and the mobilization of hundreds of bilingual activists have now diminished and reduced this proposal to almost nothing—except a potentially massive funding increase for bilingual education, as described in the attached NY Daily News story.

In fact, it is quite possible that the consequence of this change will be that less rather than more English is taught in NYC classrooms. The primary reason that only about half of New York’s Hispanic students are taught their subjects in Spanish is the shortage of certified “bilingual” teachers. As part of the package, Chancellor Harold Levy has proposed allocating an extra annual $75 million to the program, allowing it to attract more such teachers, and hence provide Spanish instruction to more students. The combination of cowardly leaders and passionate special-interest groups often produces such absurdity. A system that so obviously cannot reform itself becomes vulnerable to sweeping change.

Another remarkable absurdity of this issue has been the ongoing attempt by federal and state “civil rights” bureaucrats to attack the Oceanside Unified district for its strict compliance with Proposition 227, as discussed in the attached column by the always fearless Jill Stewart. On the face of it, strictly complying with a statute that was passed by a landslide majority of voters and ruled constitutional by four federal judges hardly seems improper, especially since the action being taken is merely the teaching of English to young immigrant students. These attacks become doubly absurd when one recognizes that Oceanside has doubled the average academic test scores of its immigrant students during this period, a greater increase than any of California’s thousand-odd other school districts. Apparently, complying with laws and achieving academic success is considered by some a violation of “civil rights.” We live in a very strange world.

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