Students struggling to learn English are routinely shut out of the city’s new small high schools, a cornerstone of Mayor Bloomberg education reforms, according to a study released yesterday.
The study – issued by the watchdog group Advocates for Children and the New York Immigration Coalition(Make the Road by Walking is a leading member of the Coalition) – cited a city policy that permits schools to bar such students within two years of opening.
The exclusion policy also applies to special education students, and last summer became the focus on an ongoing bias inquiry by the federal Department of Education.
The groups said they had no plans to challenge the policy in court, but demanded that it be repealed immediately. Researchers could not say how many of the 184 new small schools created under Bloomberg exercise the two-year exclusion policy.
But they found that 41 percent of 126 small schools surveyed do not offer any English-as-a-Second Language or bilingual services – apparently in violation of city, state and federal laws.
“The problem isn’t just access,” said Chung-Wha Hong, director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “Sometimes they can get in the door but they then face a long-term problem because there are no services for them.”
The city Department of Education insisted that only a handful of small schools did not have a single ESL student enrolled.
Immigrant students who are admitted to small schools generally thrive. Almost 86 percent of ninth-grade ESL students in small schools advanced to 10th grade – compared to 64 percent in large schools.
The study also found that few small schools have been created in neighborhoods where high concentrations of immigrant students reside.
For instance, Queens is home to the fastest-growing immigrant population, but has only 7 percent of the small schools.
Andres Alonso, the city’s deputy chancellor for instruction, said ESL students have equal access to small schools.
He noted that the proportion of ESL students in those schools was on par with that of all high school students – about 11 percent.
Alonso said the creation of small schools is improving options for ESL students – but if it’s not planned carefully it could replicate the past when such students “did not get the choices and options they deserve.”
Small schools were created to replace large high schools where graduation rates are dismal and attendance is low.