New York Mayor Steps Back From English Immersion

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jun 25 17:35:36 UTC 2003

Forwarded from New York Times, June 25, 2003

Mayor Steps Back From English Immersion


    Reversing his position on how children who do not speak English should
be taught, Mayor Michael R.  Bloomberg yesterday announced plans to
strengthen programs for 134,000 students who need to learn English that
emphasize bilingual instruction and classes taught in native languages
instead of requiring total immersion in English. As a candidate for mayor
in 2001 and in some of the recent discussions on how to improve English
instruction, Mr. Bloomberg had favored the immersion approach. His change
in position, people involved in drafting the plan said, reflected careful
political maneuvering to avoid angering Hispanic voters who helped elect
him and whose support he will need to win a second term.

Mr. Bloomberg announced his plan yesterday at a news conference in Battery
Park near the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where he
invoked "the city's historic role as the entry point for immigrants
seeking a better life" and was joined by education officials and Hispanic
politicians and leaders of Hispanic advocacy groups. "The goal of the
reforms we are presenting today is to give the children of today's
immigrants the opportunity of realizing the American dream," Mr. Bloomberg

He also insisted that he had not changed his view. "I have never wavered
from my belief that if you do not speak good English and have good
academics that you will be able to share in the American dream the way
everybody would like to," he said. "There is no easy answer. You have to
be able to understand and to participate." The mayor's plans will retain
three different approaches to English language instruction already in use
in the city's public schools. They are transitional bilingual, in which
students learn English as well as other subjects like math in their native
language; English as a second language, which focuses on intensive
rudimentary English for most of the day; and dual language, in which
English-speaking and foreign-language-speaking students learn together in
English and the foreign language, like Spanish or Chinese.

The plan to improve English language programs is the last major curricular
piece in the mayor's plan to overhaul the schools. And it had been
anxiously anticipated, particularly by Hispanic and Asian community
leaders who feared that Mr. Bloomberg would do away with existing
bilingual and dual-language programs in favor of immersion. Instead, the
mayor outlined a plan to strengthen existing programs by aligning them
with the uniform citywide math and reading curriculum he announced in
January, by hiring 107 instructional specialists to support teachers of
English language learner programs and by creating a new teacher-training

Mr. Bloomberg said the plan would bring more cohesion to the English
language programs, would provide more accountability and would set
specific guidelines for how much time students spend learning English
versus learning various subjects in classes taught in their native
languages. And he said the city would spend an additional $20 million to
implement the plan. As an example, officials said a student might spend 40
percent of the school day learning English and the remaining 60 percent of
the day learning academic subjects taught in his or her native language.

Opponents of the mayor suggested that he had avoided offending Hispanic
constituents by presenting a plan that offered little in the way of
change. A switch to immersion, in which students get intensive
English-only instruction, would have prompted a huge outcry. Randi
Weingarten, the teachers' union president, said the mayor had offered
nothing new. "We are all breathing a sigh of relief that they basically
did something that is consistent with the practices that we believe work
in bilingual education," she said. Supporters, like Deputy Chancellor
Diana Lam, who helped devise the mayor's plan, suggested that it would be
a model for the nation by integrating English language learning into a
larger educational framework. Under the plan, students learning English
will have classroom libraries like mainstream students and new schools
will open, including an Asian-studies, dual-language high school in Lower

"When we think about bilingual education, we think about it in isolation
from the main agenda," Ms. Lam said. "That's what's different here." She
added, "This is about wanting our kids to do so darn well that we're just
so proud of them." The principals' union praised the mayor's plan but
complained that principals were not sufficiently involved. "Once again,
there is no accountability for anyone but principals even though" the
program will be run by people outside the school, the union president,
Jill Levy, said in a statement. She demanded extensive professional
development for principals and assistant principals.

The present bilingual programs are largely the result of a lawsuit filed
in 1974 by Aspira, a Latino civil rights group, which later signed a
settlement that required students to be taught at least partly in their
native language. Aspira's executive director, Hector Gesualdo, joined Mr.
Bloomberg at the news conference and praised the mayor's plan. Mr.
Bloomberg insisted that he had not shifted ground. "I have never changed
my view," he said. "I am not a professional educator nor should I be. My
job is to pick a chancellor who will go and get the best educators and
come up with the best policies and best practices."

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list