Most researchers, educators, and even parents believe that smaller, specialized schools promote greater academic success. Specialty schools usher in smaller class sizes, more individual attention, and a friendlier environment–most people agree on the statistics.  Can there be disadvantages for these schools, then? Of course.

In an article from The New York Times, a high school in particular in Brooklyn is focused on as bringing about negative consequences as the district attempts to restructure its failing, larger schools into more numerous smaller schools that would hopefully be more effective in raising grades and student success. Initially, this process seems to be positive, the larger, more impersonal schools will be transformed into smaller, individualized and specialized schools. However, in the case of Lafayette High School, major concerns arise with the application of the specialty schools for the bilingual/English as a Second Language students.

Well, it’s not with the students, themselves, but with the programs for English Language Learners, most if not all will be wiped out with the emergence of smaller schools. The majority of the 650 students that attended Lafayette High School were Chinese and either bilingual or had English as their second language. At this large high school,  a federal mandate had forced the school to provide classes for these language needs. As the proposal was accepted to break up this school, Mr Chung, the president of the Chinese-American community association, along with faculty from Lafayette High School issued a proposal for a school specializing in “international studies.” At first, reception from the department to this idea seemed extremely positive. However, when the three smaller specialized schools were announced, the association’s hopes were crushed:

The department announced its plan for restructuring Lafayette, which now has about 2,100 students, beginning in September 2007. It would contain three new schools — one emphasizing sports management, another focusing on film and music, and a third offering “expeditionary learning” under the aegis of Outward Bound. None will offer bilingual instruction, at least at the outset.

“This is an absolutely unacceptable choice,” Mr. Chung said. “These three schools have nothing to do with our community. They’re forcing the immigrant students out of their own neighborhood. New York is an immigrant city, but I think the education policy is not for us.”

In my opinion, Mr. Chung’s dissenting views are extremely valid. Sure, the specialties of these schools are interesting and innovative and could really help promote student success. However, with a large population of bilingual students in the classrooms, one has to realize that these students have particular needs–this one being that they would benefit from bilingual instruction, which will not be a possibility for them in these schools when the schools open:

In the trade-off for the closing of Lafayette and Tilden, with the net loss of about 800 places in bilingual and E.S.L. classes, the Education Department has announced the opening of only one small school geared to immigrant pupils in the entire borough. And even now, less than two weeks before eighth graders throughout the city must submit their applications to high schools, the department has not revealed the location of that school, the Multicultural High School. For all any parent or child knows at this point, it could be anywhere from Bay Ridge to Brownsville.

This whole process seems covered in just unacceptable accommodation for these students. Sure, these smaller specialized schools look really good. They seem to have everything they would need for students to succeed. The problem is that they have set up these schools to promote only certain students to succeed. They don’t have the original plan for an intercultural setting for these students. Could the new schools integrate the bilingualism of the students into their curriculum? Sure! It would be a bit more work, but why not? Well the article says…

Any new school gets a two-year waiver before it even tries to establish a bilingual or dual-language program. And even after two years, few small schools will ever reach the critical mass of students eligible for a bilingual or dual-language class with a certified teacher.  

So what are these students supposed to do? Obviously they have parents and organizations backing them and advocating for them, but the services they need will not be available in these new schools. How, then, are these students supposed to succeed?

In my opinion, schools are there for the students. Teachers are there for the students. Programs are sought out and initiated solely to help the students and to further their academic knowledge and collegiate abilities. It is wonderful that governments are looking at unsuccessful schools and are trying to evoke positive change. However, if the change being enacted is not proportionate and does not fit the student body, no change will be made, and students will remain in a failing system, one that cannot help but perpetuate failure.

“On Different Pages with Bilingual Education” by Samuel G. Freedman. The New York Times. February 14, 2007. Full Article Here.  

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