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27th June
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, June 27, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

If ever there was a clear indication that Mayor Bloomberg’s stewardship of our school system represents nothing more than a rearrangement of the deck chairs on a sinking ship, it was Tuesday’s announcement of the “reform” of the city’s bilingual program, held in Battery Park.

This is no reform at all, but rather an endorsement of a program that has now failed generations of our most vulnerable children. The program was established with the best of intentions in 1974, after the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Puerto Rican advocacy group, Aspira. The city’s educational administration hoped to lift the performance of immigrant children by teaching them in their own language. After three decades, however, there is almost no one who can honestly say that this program has worked — certainly not Mr. Bloomberg, or at least last year’s Mr. Bloomberg. The mayor is fully aware of the program’s failings.As a candidate, and even after his election as mayor, he argued against bilingual education.
Yesterday’s school-funding decision by the state Court of Appeals can only raise the stakes. The only way that the state can avoid huge new educational expenditures is to demand that each dollar be spent wisely. No education dollar is less productive than the bilingual dollar.

The mayor was given control of the schools a year ago largely because he appeared to have an honest commitment to a reform effort, and he appeared to be apolitical enough to make it work. The Legislature never felt comfortable enough with Mayors Giuliani, Dinkins, or even Koch to hand them full powers over the Board of Education. Tuesday’s capitulation to the failed status quo demonstrates that their confidence — and mine — was misplaced. Mr. Bloomberg’s bilingual surrender is the most painful defeat of real reform of them all.

No meaningful study has been produced that suggests even a remote degree of success for the program that Mr. Bloomberg will now enhance with another $20 million. Spending money to bolster a system that has already unsuccessfully burned through billions cannot be justified.

If the city’s bilingual program were a prescription drug, it would have been taken off the market faster than thalidomide. Many students never leave the programs, and those who do typically enter the educational mainstream far behind those taught through time-proven English-immersion methods. Moreover, these programs are not restricted to children born abroad. Bilingual advocates routinely steer the native-born children of native-born parents into bilingual programs.

Moreover, the mayor plans to establish 13 new dual-language schools as part of a boutique program. It would be wonderful to teach all of our children a second language. But this option has no relevancy to the problem bilingual education was supposed to address. We must first ensure that every child becomes fully conversant in the language essential for success in this country, English. Mr. Bloomberg has failed to give us a plan that will achieve this primary goal.

When Mr. Bloomberg announced the broad outlines of his education plan on January 15, he promised a bilingual reform plan in 60 days. That deadline passed, as did 90 days, 120, and 150 days.

I’m told that the delays were caused by an enormous blowout between Mr. Bloomberg and the educrats he brought in to run the Department of Education. Most notably the deputy chancellor for instruction, Diana Lam, an uncompromising advocate of bilingual programs. Had the mayor followed his instincts and ended the city’s failed bilingual experiment, Ms. Lam may well have felt compelled to resign. I am left wondering why the mayor hired someone not committed to his educational vision. Complicating the picture further were the mayor’s political advisers, who reportedly argued that bilingual programs are popular in the Hispanic community, a perceived swing vote.

But nothing will increase the mayor’s popularity among Hispanics more than bringing up the test scores of their children — which would happen if they were taken out of bilingual classrooms. It’s what happened in California when bilingual programs were largely abolished by public referendum. Despite the predictions of doom and gloom from bilingual advocates, test scores skyrocketed by as much as 40% on state tests among the children now required by law to be taught in English-immersion classes. Does anyone believe that scores of Hispanic students will increase when the Department of Education uses the exact same strategy that failed them for the past 30 years?

What matters most in the reform of education are the instructional strategies employed to teach our children. But the status quo promoted by the educrats has prevailed in every single battle. Mr. Bloomberg has condemned yet another generation of children to stagnate in a linguistic ghetto — and despite what the Court of Appeals implies, money alone will not pry them out.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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