language learning

City to add dozens of dual-language programs as they grow in popularity

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña with High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies Principal Li Yan and Deputy Chancellor for the Division of English Language Learners and Student Support Milady Baez.

New York City schools will add more dual-language programs, officials said Monday, continuing a push to improve outcomes for English learners while also meeting the growing demand for such programs among native English-speaking families.

Beginning this fall, 29 new or expanded dual-language programs will launch, with teachers delivering lessons in math, history, and other subjects in English and another language, including Chinese, French, Haitian-Creole, Arabic, Polish, and Spanish. Those programs are designed to serve a mix of students who are still learning English and ones who are proficient, with each group picking up a second language while also learning math, science, and other subject content.

The city will also start nine new transitional bilingual programs, which are designed to gradually shift instruction for English learners from their native language to English.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that an increasing number of parents are requesting dual-language programs in particular, which a growing body of research shows can help students become bilingual and can narrow the test-score gap between native English speakers and English learners. In line with national trends, the city’s English learners are far less likely to pass the state math and English exams and to graduate.

The ability to speak multiple languages is “a gift, it’s a pleasure, it’s something that’s going to make you much more employable,” Fariña said at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies in Manhattan. “More importantly, it’s going to make you a citizen of the world.”

Fariña, whose parents were Spanish immigrants, has made the expansion of dual-language programs a top priority. Last year, she created or expanded 40 dual-language programs, and chose 15 schools with outstanding programs to serve as models.

She has also highlighted those programs as a tool for school integration, since they often serve students from a mix of ethnic backgrounds and can attract middle-class families to schools they might not otherwise consider.

Still, the vast majority of the city’s roughly 142,000 non-native English speakers take most of their classes in English. Only about 18 percent of those students are enrolled in bilingual programs, down from about 40 percent in 2002, according to one study. The majority of those programs are transitional bilingual, with just 154 of the city’s 1,600 traditional public schools offering dual-language programs.

The city is under state pressure to sharply increase the number of bilingual programs. In 2013, after receiving state orders to create a “corrective action plan,” the city promised to open 125 new bilingual programs. And in 2014, the city reached an agreement with the state to make bilingual programs available to all English learners by 2018 — an ambitious goal, considering that about 116,000 English learners are currently enrolled in English-only programs.

The push to create more bilingual programs is based largely on research showing that, over time, English learners in dual-language programs tend to outperform peers in English-only classes. A study of Portland schools found that English learners who enrolled in dual-language programs in kindergarten had gained the equivalent of an extra year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared to peers in English-only classes.

“The research has shown time and again that dual language is the most effective academic program for these students,” said Amaya Garcia, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation who studies English learners.

Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, said the program had taught her to embrace diversity and work through challenges.
Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, said the program had taught her to embrace diversity and work through challenges.

The city faces several hurdles as it tries to ramp up its number of dual-language programs, including finding qualified bilingual teachers and ensuring that the programs are high quality.

Edward Rubio, an education policy analyst who was formerly the research director in the city education department’s English learners office, said that dual-language programs can be hard to maintain because only a portion of students are English learners who bring the school additional funding. He added that dual-language programs must be properly implemented in order to benefit students.

“I’m very grateful that the chancellor has been advocating for dual-language programs,” he said. “But I think we should pause and have a meaningful conversation about the quality of these programs.”

The 36 participating schools will receive a $25,000 federal planning grant for a dual-language program, or a $10,000 grant for a transitional bilingual program. Each school will also get $5,000 to buy books in different languages for their classroom libraries.

An education department spokeswoman said teachers at those schools would receive additional training, and that department officials visit bilingual programs to monitor their quality.

Fariña acknowledged that recruiting bilingual teachers is a major challenge, but said she has several plans to address it. Those include partnering with local universities to train more teachers and asking the state to allow bilingual educators from other states to teach in New York without having to earn new licenses.

Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, already spoke English and Spanish by the time she arrived in the U.S. three years ago from Guyana, so she decided to learn Chinese. She said the experience has helped her appreciate different cultures and work through difficulties – like mixing up the words for “fried chicken” and “acrobat.”

“I know the steps to overcoming challenges and the steps to being comfortable in an environment I’ve never been in before,” she said. “That’s something that will be helpful.”

 

now hiring

With a new school year underway, hundreds of teaching positions remain unfilled in New York City

PHOTO: Jaclyn Zubrzycki

Hundreds of schools are missing teachers and support staff two weeks into the school year, with many of the openings in high-poverty districts and struggling schools that are typically the hardest to staff, according to postings on a city database in mid-September.

There were almost 1,700 job postings as of Sept. 19, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat. The listings offer a snapshot of the jobs advertised that day — not an official tally of the total citywide staff openings.

Still, they indicate a critical need for special-education teachers and paraprofessionals, teaching assistants who tend to work with young students and those with disabilities. Many of the unfilled positions were in low-income districts in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and dozens were in schools in the city’s Renewal program for low-performing schools.

The vacancies were posted in the city’s Excessed Staff Selection System, which lists jobs available to teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve — a pool of teachers who lack permanent positions because they face disciplinary or legal issues, or their schools were closed or downsized. The listings hint at where teachers in the ATR pool may land this year, since the city recently announced it will place such teachers in schools that still have vacancies after Oct. 15.

Education department officials said the data “doesn’t provide accurate or precise information on school vacancies.” In particular, they said there could be a lag in updating the postings, or that schools could post positions that are expected to become available but are currently filled.

In addition, schools may list the same job more than once in order to advertise the position to teachers with different certifications, officials said. For example, a posting for a computer science teacher could also appear as openings for math and science teachers.

Still, the postings suggest where the need for teachers may be greatest — and where ATR teachers could likely end up.

Four out of the five districts with the most postings were in the Bronx. They include Districts 7 and 9 in the South Bronx, along with Districts 10 and 12. District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York, also had dozens of listings.

In District 7, where more than 90 percent of students are poor, there were 60 postings for teachers in subjects ranging from Spanish to physical education and music. That includes 26 listings for paraprofessionals, who are often mandated by students’ special-education plans.

Overall, there were more than 600 listings for paraprofessionals, about half of which were needed to work with students who have disabilities. Almost 400 of the postings were for special-education teachers, who are often in short supply.

Devon Eisenberg knows these staffing challenges well. She is co-principal of The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx in District 9. Despite boasting a staff-retention rate of about 90 percent, the school started the year short one teacher. To plug the hole, Eisenberg relied on substitutes and other teachers to cover the class. She was able to find a permanent hire this week, though the pool of qualified candidates was slim.

“This is definitely not fair for our students as they are not receiving consistent and coherent instruction,” she wrote in an email. “It is also stressful for the teachers covering these holes.”

Starting the school year with a substitute teacher can become a barrier to learning. Research has shown that staff turnover leads to lower test scores, even for students who weren’t in the class that lost its teacher.

Turnover tends to be highest in struggling schools, which often serve the neediest students.

Schools in the Renewal program — which includes 78 low-performing schools — posted about 70 openings, according to the data analyzed by Chalkbeat. The greatest shortage was for special-education teachers, for which there were 16 postings. That was followed by math teachers, with nine openings.

At M.S. 391 The Angelo Patri Middle School, a Renewal school in the Bronx, there were two postings for math teachers. Last year, only 8 percent of students passed state math exams at the school, which has a new principal.

Carmen Marrero teaches special education at M.S. 391 and has worked in other Bronx schools that struggle with staffing.

“We tend to deal with a lot of behavior challenges,” she said, referring to schools in the Bronx. “I guess that keeps some of the aspiring teachers or some of the teachers who are already in the field away from this side of town.”

This year, the openings come with an additional consequence: Schools with vacancies could be prime candidates to receive teachers in the ATR.

Though officials say they will work closely with principals, the department could place teachers even over the objections of school leaders. Some principals have threatened to game the hiring system by simply not posting openings in order to avoid having a teacher from the ATR placed at their school.

Meanwhile, some teachers in the pool dread being assigned to schools whose openings could signal poor leadership or a tough work environment.

Teachers who are in the ATR will not be placed in positions outside of their license areas, which may limit how many of the openings the education department can fill after mid-October.

Critics say the policy will place the least effective teachers in the neediest schools. Education department figures show that only 74 percent of ATR teachers were rated effective, highly effective or satisfactory in 2015-16 — compared to 93 percent of all city teachers.

Education department officials said the city has worked with schools to fill their vacancies well before the start of the school year.

Maria Herrera, principal of Renaissance High School for Musical Theater in the Bronx, said she tries to have all her hires in place by June. That way, she can involve future teachers in end-of-the-year activities that help build a sense of community, and provide training over the summer.

This year, she was able to start school fully staffed. The education department allowed schools to fill positions earlier this year and held numerous job fairs, she said.

“I feel really supported,” she said.

Changes

Denver East High principal Andy Mendelsberg out after investigation into cheerleading scandal

PHOTO: John Leyba / The Denver Post
Denver's East High School.

The principal of Denver’s East High School has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist will return to Denver to lead the school, Boasberg announced Friday. Youngquist served for the past four years as a top official in Aurora Public Schools.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by DPS. The district on Friday released a report detailing the firm’s findings.

According to Boasberg’s letter, the investigation found that “over multiple months, in response to multiple concerns of a serious nature,” Mendelsberg and East athletic director Lisa Porter failed to keep the students on the cheer team safe.

Specifically, the letter says Mendelsberg and Porter did not “sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos;” failed to provide the necessary level of oversight for the cheer coach, “especially as concerns mounted;” and failed to take corrective action, including firing Williams.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Boasberg said that in addition to what was captured on video, concerns about Williams included that he instructed athletes not to tell anyone what happened at practice and required them to friend him on social media “with the express purpose of him monitoring their social media presence.”

Boasberg said that “raises deeper concerns about what was going on here.”

Mendelsberg, Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while the investigation was ongoing. The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Porter resigned her position earlier this week, Boasberg said.

Hickman received corrective action but is being reinstated after the investigation revealed he didn’t know the full extent of what happened, Boasberg said.

Cladis, who was not at practice during the splits incident and whose position was volunteer, is welcome to remain the assistant cheer coach, he said.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Regarding his decision to return to East, Youngquist said, “My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.”

As a parent and school leader, he said he understands the trust that parents put in schools. “I’m committed to strengthening that bond and partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff,” he said.

Munn has already appointed an interim chief academic officer: Andre Wright, who currently serves as a P-20 learning community director. In a statement Friday, Munn said he “will evaluate the role and expectations of the (chief academic officer) position prior to developing a profile for that position moving forward.”

“We thank John Youngquist for his four years of service … and wish him all the best in his next chapter,” Munn said.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.