Troubling Funding Choices

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The Department of Education is touting dual language learning while pulling funding for individual programs

By Patricia Frisbie (P.S. 163 dual language parent) and Helen Rosenthal (Candidate for NYC Council, District 6)

Last week the NYC Department of Education (DOE) announced 29 new dual language programs to open throughout the City at the same time that department schools began to figure out how to implement sizable budget cuts to their individual school budgets. Sadly, P.S. 87's 25-year-old dual language immersion program went on the chopping block for a variety of unrelated reasons. P.S. 87 leadership will appeal the cuts to their dual language program and most likely, the DOE will restore funding to that program.

The disconnect between DOE's Central Office trumpeting meeting the needs of dual language learners without acknowledging the reality of budget cut impact to individual schools is troubling, to put it mildly. On the one hand the DOE wants credit for cutting-edge programs, on the other it is dismantling successful programs with benign negligence.

In the unlikely scenario of P.S. 87 closing down its dual language program, our community would lose out. Having one less school offering a foreign language is like going from cell phone technology to rotary dial. In the 21st century, don't we want our children to grow up as bilingual or even multilingual global citizens? In this high-stakes education environment of common core standards, isn't speaking, reading and writing a second or third language a competitive advantage, therefore fast-tracking these students down the path to "college and career readiness" - the touted goal of the common core?

There is great beauty in bringing these children together into a classroom where English-dominant, Spanish (or French)-dominant, and bilingual kids mix and become friends. They help each other with grammar and literacy, using each other as human dictionaries. The satisfaction comes when parents see their children read chapter books and write essays in two languages. For parents, it clearly is more difficult because of the language barrier. For teachers, it is a labor of love but it does mean significant amounts of extra work in translating material and notes home and with two sets of assessments to conduct. Teachers also struggle to find curriculum materials supporting that second language. For administrators, finding students with the background, ability, or desire who reside in their respective catchment is like piecing together a puzzle.

Teachers, administrators and the community alike agree that it is a struggle worth undertaking. Every time the DOE reallocates funding from individual schools to Central Office "innovation" they undermine current school programs. That has to stop.

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