Are Dual Language Programs Next On the Chopping Block?

In August 2019, the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) recommended that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) get rid of elementary school Gifted & Talented programs. Their argument was that G&T programs cause segregation, and that offering enrichment to some, rather than all, children was inequitable. They proposed instead an “Enrichment For All” model.

We’ll set aside for now the fact that the DOE can’t even define what “enrichment” is, much less explain how they plan to provide a customized educational experience for all children when, at the present moment, they can’t even get over 50% of NYC kids to perform at grade level in reading and math.

Today, I want to talk about the alleged inequity of different children receiving different things in public schools.

Even taking G&T out of the equation, the fact is, currently, all public school educational experiences are not the same.

Some children attend unzoned progressive schools. Some receive conservatory-level musical instruction. Some have buildings with state-of-the-art gyms and computer labs while others can’t get lightbulbs replaced and deal with roach infestations.

And then there are the Dual Language programs.

Unlike G&T, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza are huge fans of Dual Language programs. There’s a new press release every time more are opened.

But aren’t kids in Dual Language programs also getting something different – something more – than children in monolingual General Ed?

How is that equitable?

Furthermore, here is another dirty little secret of Dual Language education: Despite them originally being touted as tools to help English Language Learners, in some neighborhoods Dual Language is a way for families shut out of G&T programs, or unhappy with the low academic bar of NYC’s basic curriculum, to give their children an additional challenge and secure them a leg up for the future.

As one Dual Language parent boasted to me, “We’re really the G&T here.”

While, at another school, the Dual Language Spanish class was all native English Speakers!

Understanding this, undersubscribed schools in gentrifying neighborhoods are hurrying to add Dual Language programs as a way to attract affluent families who’d otherwise never consider attending merely the General Ed program. Which is also the reason why G&T was once implemented.

So if Gifted & Talented programs cause segregation and are fundamentally inequitable, how long until SDAG decides the same thing about Dual Language programs?

Of course, just like with the “Enrichment For All” model, the logical solution is a “Dual Language For All” mandate.

But which language? Currently, Spanish is the most frequently taught, but Mandarin is the new hot girl at the prom. And then there are programs in French, Japanese, Arabic, Polish, Urdu, German, Russian, Korean, Armenian, Yiddish, Italian, as well as petitions for Greek and more.

In a “Dual Language For All” model, will families get to pick their language (will every requested language be available?), or will they be assigned based on address, the way the majority of students are assigned to schools now? If they can pick their language, will kids be bussed to the appropriate school? This petition indicates a lack of transportation is the biggest obstacle to Dual Language enrollment.

But, surely, different kids learning different languages isn’t equitable, especially if it’s not the language they want. (Then again, one of the DOE’s definitions of equality is if everyone is equally unhappy, and nobody has what they want. That’s certainly easier to achieve than everyone getting what they want.)

And what about parents who — for whatever reason — don’t want Dual Language, the way some parents now don’t want standardized testing? (Listen to an interview with a dad where Dual Language worked great for one of his kids, but not the other.) Will they be allowed to “opt out?” How would that work? What would they do instead?

The DOE has made it clear that they intend to standardize all education in the name of equality. No child should have a different experience from another child, regardless of their particular needs. (What this means for kids with learning differences is a whole other can of worms.)

So how long before the DOE is forced to acknowledge their own hypocrisy… and Dual Language programs are on the chopping block, too?

What do you think?

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