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Required to help ELLs, city to open 125 new bilingual programs

The city will launch 125 new bilingual programs under the terms of a required plan to improve the treatment of students who are classified as English language learners.

Test scores and high school graduation rates for ELLs lag far behind the city average, and last summer the state told then-Chancellor Joel Klein to produce a “corrective action plan” for how to serve the students better.

That plan, released today and posted below, sets out an ambitious remediation schedule — and also highlights just how much the city has lagged in providing legally mandated services to ELLs.

In the plan, the city promises to reduce the number of ELLs whose teachers are not trained to work with them and to punish schools that fail to provide services to which ELLs are entitled.

It also promises to launch 125 new bilingual programs by 2013, including 20 this school year, on top of the 397 that are already open. The new programs will open in districts with many ELLs and where parents say they prefer their children placed in classrooms where instruction takes place in two languages, rather than in English-only classes with extra help for non-native speakers. The city has hired Ernst & Young, an auditing group, to monitor whether parents’ choices are honored.

Some of the new programs will open in high school campuses where no bilingual instruction currently takes place. When he approved several school closures in July, State Education Commissioner John King expressed concern about whether new high schools would serve the same students who attended the schools that closed. The plan commits to opening new programs when existing ones phase out along with their schools.

In the plan, the city says it will withhold funding from schools that fall short and penalize their principals. State officials did not indicate what consequences the DOE itself would face if it does not meet its year-by-year benchmarks.

Advocates for ELLs called the state’s intervention in ELL issues “unprecedented” and said they are hopeful that the city and state would follow through on the plan’s commitments.

“Previous to this commissioner we didn’t get a lot of movement on ELLs at the state level,” said Gisela Alvarez, an attorney at Advocates for Children of New York. “It’s a good opportunity to take the spotlight and press forward with all the things we know need to be done.”

The state officially accepted the plan yesterday and the city will start acting on it immediately, first by publishing updated compliance numbers, according to a DOE spokesman, Matthew Mittenthal.

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