[lg policy] Learning the Language: How the Closing of Two Brooklyn High Schools Affected ELLs

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 17 21:47:49 UTC 2009

Learning the Language

Mary Ann Zehr is an assistant editor at Education Week. She has
written about the schooling of English-language learners for more than
nine years and understands through her own experience of studying
Spanish that it takes a long time to learn another language well. Her
blog will tackle difficult policy questions, explore learning
innovations, and share stories about different cultural groups on her
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Case Studies: How the Closing of Two Brooklyn High Schools Affected ELLs

Advocates for Children of New York and the Asian American Legal
Defense and Education Fund released a report today contending that
English-language learners were not well served by the break up of two
Brooklyn high schools into smaller schools. As the New York City
Department of Education continues to close large schools and replace
them with smaller ones, "ELL students—who experience some of the
lowest graduation rates in the city—are left with fewer and fewer
options or are simply left behind," the report argues.

At the same time, let me note that someone has filed a complaint with
the office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education saying
the Big Apple's small schools discriminated against ELLs and students
with disabilities by excluding them. But in January, OCR determined
that the schools hadn't excluded the students, and thus had not
discriminated against them. (Learning the Language post here.)

The report provides case studies—based on on-site visits, interviews,
and enrollment data—of how the closing of Tilden and Lafayette high
schools in Brooklyn affected ELLs. It argues that as these schools
were phased out, ELLs received less language support and services in
their home schools and in some cases were pushed into General
Educational Development programs, when they had a right to get a
regular high school diploma. It says that many of the small schools,
unless they have a particular goal of serving ELLs, have enrolled very
few such students and are not providing extra language help to the
ones they have (they're required by federal law to do so).

Many ELLs, the report says, ended up attending other large high
schools in the city. The closing of Tilden and Lafayette also resulted
in the loss of two large bilingual education programs, as the small
schools didn't create such programs.

Initially, when the New York City Department of Education started
breaking up large high schools into smaller ones, it permitted the
small schools to exclude ELLs for the first two years of operation.
Several New York City-based organizations, including Advocates for
Children, fought to have that policy revoked. They succeeded, and in
2007, the department said that small schools could not exclude ELLs.

The report released today, "Empty Promises," bases its findings on an
examination of ELL access to services in the new small schools that
replaced Tilden and Lafayette in the 2007-08 school year. The report
makes the case that many small schools are still not enrolling many
ELLs. It provides several recommendations for how the city education
department should take ELLs into consideration when closing high
schools. Among them are to ensure that ELLs in the schools that are
being phased out get a chance to continue to work for a regular high
school diploma and that new small schools have plans to recruit and
properly assess ELLs and have programs to serve them.

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