Language Partners

In pact to boost services for English learners, city says it no longer needs arm-twisting

State Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Carmen Fariña sign an agreement on goals to raise outcomes for English language learners.

Three years after being pressured to improve the education of English language learners, city officials under a new regime say they will tackle the problems without any arm-twisting.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner John King on Monday agreed to increase enrollment in bilingual programs, put more qualified teachers in their classrooms, better match newly-arrived students with language services, and hold principals accountable for implementing their plan. The agreement sets yearly targets but did not include details about how the city will meet those goals.

Whether school districts do enough to provide non-English speaking students with equal educational opportunities has been under scrutiny for decades. In recent years, federal civil rights agencies have become more aggressive in their enforcement of civil rights laws, taking action in districts like Boston and Los Angeles. In 2011, New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg was put on a “corrective action plan” by the state, and agreed to open 125 bilingual programs in three years and reduce the share of newly-arrived students who weren’t tested for language services in a timely manner.

By 2013, a report from the city showed that the city had created 60 bilingual programs in two years and reduced the percentage of students who weren’t tested in a timely manner to less than 2 percent. That report was authored by Angelica Infante, then a top official with the city Department of Education. A top state education official responded two months later to say the city’s work has “satisfactorily met” its requirements.

But Infante, now the state’s top bilingual education official, said Monday that the city’s efforts had come up short when she was there.

“We honestly believe that there is a level of commitment that we have not experienced before,” Infante said.

The 13-page memorandum of understanding that King and Fariña signed Monday in midtown Manhattan offers an outline of the city’s plans. Some of the goals will likely be easier to obtain than others.

For instance, all students will need to be enrolled in one of three types of bilingual programs by the 2018-19 school year. A 2013 report said that just 159 students, or 0.2 percent, weren’t enrolled in a bilingual program and another 4,111 students were not receiving bilingual services and had personalized learning plans due to a disability.

The city also agreed to make all high schools hit ELL enrollment targets by the 2016-17 school year, cut down on the number of students who have received language services for more than six years, and make sure all language teachers are properly credentialed by the 2018-19 school year.

But the city declined to provide updated figures that it will use to measure progress around these goals. A spokeswoman said they would be “established over the next few weeks.”

State officials were also vague about how it would enforce its new agreement. Infante said the state’s intervention will “be dependent upon where the movement has not happened.”

The city has already made a few changes that Fariña touted after the signing event, which was held at Instituto Cervantes, a cultural center funded by the Spanish government.

First, the city set aside $13 million in the budget to support the initiative, much of which would go toward training teachers. The city already hosted an all-day professional development session for more than 300 teachers last week, “something they haven’t had in years,” Fariña said.

Fariña has said she wants to create 40 dual-language programs, in which fluency in both English and another language are equally encouraged, and is asking principals to apply to host those programs.

“It’s really a whole different mindset about how we’re doing this work,” Fariña said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.