Less violence, higher attendance and better graduation rates are all being pointed to as results of big neighborhood high schools being remade into small, theme-based academies. But NY1 Education reporter Michael Meenan says parents of one group of students say their children are being left out.
Some parents of bilingual students say their children are being deprived of opportunities open to other students in city high schools. One father was forced to accept Edward R. Murrow High School because no small school offered a bilingual program in Russian.
"Because the school is big, there is no personal approach to the student and his son feels lost," Alex Gutmhamer said through a translator.
"So Many Schools, So Few Options," a report prepared by the New York Immigration Coalition (Make the Road by Walking is a leading member of the Coalition) and Advocates for Children, says that many of the city’s nearly 38,000 high school English language learners, or ELLs are deprived of the benefits of small schools because they lack bilingual programs. Since they account for 12 percent of all high schoolers, the stakes are high.
"When they don’t get the services, they tend to drop out; when they get them, they have the highest graduation rates of any group," said Ana Maria Archila of the Latin American Integration Center.
Not enough is done to get bilingual instruction into new schools, claims the report, with an analysis of 183 of the 186 small schools recently created.
"The Department of Education has an official policy that allows small schools to exclude ELLs for the first two years a school is open," said Elisa Hyman of Advocates for Children.
A DOE spokeswoman said that the two-year policy is optional for brand new schools and not an ironclad rule. And in a written statement, Andres Alonso, a deputy chancellor, said the DOE would meet with the report’s authors. He added:
"We have increased the number of new small schools with an ELL focus every year, and will continue to do so. The percentage of ELL students enrolled in our new small schools shows that they have equivalent access to this initiative."
There are 11 bilingual high schools, including nine small, international high schools for recent immigrants. English as a Second Language is available in every large high school. Liberty High School in Manhattan has students who learn in Polish, Spanish and Chinese bilingual programs. The graduation rate for its 500+ students is about 80 percent and the school needs to turn away new applicants. It seems there are just not enough such schools.
The one sure thing is that as long as New York City remains a magnet for international immigration city there’s going to be the need for city education officials to work out how to provide bilingual education in the public schools.