Make bilingual education a priority

The mayoral candidates have participated in many debates and forums and campaigned all over New York City. But to date, most of them have not discussed or offered plans to improve bilingual education.

In New York City’s public school system, there are 159,162 students who are known as English-language learners (ELL’s). Of them, 100,933 are Latinos.

Among ELL high school students the four-year graduation rate is below 50%, well below the average rate of 62% for non ELL students.

While all results were expected to be low, the outcomes of the most recent student testing under the new Common Core standards paint a bleaker picture. ELLs had proficiency rates of 11.4% and 3.4% in math and English, respectively.

These wide gaps in academic achievement need to be closed, for the sake of these students and the future of this city’s workforce. When strong leadership, teaching and adequate resources are in place, ELL’s are more successful and score higher

The next mayor must make bilingual education a top priority. And this is a mission not only for the incoming chief executive but also for elected officials, community groups and state government. Among the critical steps needed:

The state must monitor and ensure that the city meets the requirements tied to the funds it receives. There are resources for ELL’s, but distribution is up to the city and whether they are reaching students in need is a big question.

The city’s Department of Education must properly train and qualify teachers and principals to meet the needs of ELL students.

Taking into account that 50% of ELL children in pre-K and kindergarten don’t speak English fluently, bilingual early childhood programs should be created.

The language of tests must match the educational level of the students. Currently, English-language learners must take standardized tests in English, which doesn’t allow for a real gauge of their academic progress. A transition process that is adjusted according to the student’s skills should be considered.

For too long, the challenge of delivering a quality education to ELL’s has been inadequately addressed and put on a backburner. The next mayor must ensure that New York City rises to a first-class public educational system and that begins with making sure all of our kids have access to excellent learning and support.