Case Studies: How the Closing of Two Brooklyn High Schools Affected ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 16, 2009 2 min read
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Advocates for Children of New York and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released a report today contending that English-language learners were not well served by the break up of two Brooklyn high schools into smaller schools. As the New York City Department of Education continues to close large schools and replace them with smaller ones, “ELL students—who experience some of the lowest graduation rates in the city—are left with fewer and fewer options or are simply left behind,” the report argues.

At the same time, let me note that someone has filed a complaint with the office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education saying the Big Apple’s small schools discriminated against ELLs and students with disabilities by excluding them. But in January, OCR determined that the schools hadn’t excluded the students, and thus had not discriminated against them. (Learning the Language post here.)

The report provides case studies—based on on-site visits, interviews, and enrollment data—of how the closing of Tilden and Lafayette high schools in Brooklyn affected ELLs. It argues that as these schools were phased out, ELLs received less language support and services in their home schools and in some cases were pushed into General Educational Development programs, when they had a right to get a regular high school diploma. It says that many of the small schools, unless they have a particular goal of serving ELLs, have enrolled very few such students and are not providing extra language help to the ones they have (they’re required by federal law to do so).

Many ELLs, the report says, ended up attending other large high schools in the city. The closing of Tilden and Lafayette also resulted in the loss of two large bilingual education programs, as the small schools didn’t create such programs.

Initially, when the New York City Department of Education started breaking up large high schools into smaller ones, it permitted the small schools to exclude ELLs for the first two years of operation. Several New York City-based organizations, including Advocates for Children, fought to have that policy revoked. They succeeded, and in 2007, the department said that small schools could not exclude ELLs.

The report released today, “Empty Promises,” bases its findings on an examination of ELL access to services in the new small schools that replaced Tilden and Lafayette in the 2007-08 school year. The report makes the case that many small schools are still not enrolling many ELLs. It provides several recommendations for how the city education department should take ELLs into consideration when closing high schools. Among them are to ensure that ELLs in the schools that are being phased out get a chance to continue to work for a regular high school diploma and that new small schools have plans to recruit and properly assess ELLs and have programs to serve them.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.