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February 2018

The Big Apple buys into bilingual preschools

Eden Janine and Jim New York

The number of dual language pre-schools in New York will double this year, with 33 new programmes to open, the departing schools chancellor has announced.

Carmen Fariña, herself a child of Spanish immigrants, said, ‘Being able to speak and read in a different language and understand a different culture is a game-changer for our kids.’

The plan, she said, would ‘meet the needs of our kids and families, and give more of our children a critical early foundation in not just one language but two.’

During her four-year tenure, the chancellor has introduced universal free pre-school programmes and overseen rocketing test scores.
New York has also seen the highest rates for high-school graduation in the history of the city’s department of education, according to the Manhattan Times.

She has been widely criticised, however, for not increasing ethnic mixing in the city’s schools. Currently, one in six of New York’s kindergartens enrol 90 per cent of their children from a single ethnic group. The figure for primary schools is one in eight.

Increasing diversity may be part of the thinking behind the bilingual pre-school programmes.

These have proved appealing to English-speaking families that would normally enrol their children in private education but are attracted by the chance for their children to learn a foreign language. The plan appears to be working, with 2,900 families applying for just 600 dual-language kindergarten places.

A widely quoted piece in Atlantic magazine, however, warns that middle-class parents across the US may be filling the dual-language programmes and pushing out the English language learners for whom they were originally designed. Cosmopolitan middle-class families move into ‘gentrifying areas’ partly because they are attracted by the dual-language programmes, writer Connor Williams points out.

Since such programmes work best with equal numbers of native speaker and L2 children, test results improve, attracting yet more middle-class families.

These families can ‘elbow out’ the disadvantaged children they were designed for, partly by forcing up the price of local housing.

This is already happening in Washington DC, where the city’s oldest bilingual school now struggles to enrol more than 15 per cent ELLs, according to the Atlantic.


Courtesy: Eden, Janine and Jim

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