Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of the Success Charter Network and a former chairwoman of the New York City Council Education Committee, is criticizing schools in the Big Apple for taking too long to teach students with limited English skills to learn the language, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Thirty-six percent of students who were identified by the New York City school district as English-language learners in 1st grade back in 2003 hadn’t reached fluency in English by the end of 7th grade.
Moskowitz is quoted as saying “it shouldn’t take six years” for students to reach proficiency in English.
Moskowitz compiled a report about ELLs based on data she collected from the city’s Department of Education. It’s interesting that 70 percent of students who have received six years or more of ELL services were born in the United States.
But the statistic that really jumped out at me reported by the Wall Street Journal is that 25 percent of New York City’s ELLs are also classified as special-education students. Given that on average only 13 percent of students nationwide have disabilities, that statistic raises a red flag. An English-language learner, experts have always told me, isn’t more likely to have a disability than any other student. But historically some educators have mistaken a language barrier as a disability.
I tried to check that 25 percent statistic with the city’s Department of Education and I got an e-mail response back that in a 2009 demographic report, 22 percent of ELLs in New York City’s schools were classified as also having disabilities. That’s still a surprisingly high number.
The spokeswoman added that 44 percent of ELLs who have been receiving services to learn English for six years or more are also classified as special education students.
When I get a chance, I’ll ask more questions about these numbers.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.