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Thursday, March 22, 2007

For God's sake, Stop! Look! Listen! Por Dios, ¡Pare! ¡Mire! ¡Escuche! Mon Dieu, Arretez! Voyez! Ecoutez!

Luis O. Reyes, Coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners (CEEELL), attended a meeting with Chancellor Klein on March 14, 2007, set up by the New York Immigration Coalition's Education Task Force (of which Luis is a member). NYIC had sought the meeting to get the chancellor's response to NYIC's “Education Policy Brief: State Funding, Accountability and Successful Strategies for ELL Students”. The Policy Brief is a blueprint to accompany the promised City and State funding increases for English Language Learner (ELL) students.

According to Luis, “the blueprint calls for a 1.0 ELL weighting, but just as importantly, it advocates for tracking of any new ELL funding to ensure that ELL students, their teachers and their parents benefit fully through quality instruction and support services, with public accountability for inputs and outcomes”.

NYIC had sent the document to the Chancellor and his senior staff including Deputy Chancellor Andrés Alonso and Ms. Maria Santos, in charge of the Office of English Language Learners. But the meeting the Chancellor granted, was with Garth Harries, the Director of the Office of New Schools and Brian Ellner, Senior Counselor to the Chancellor. And as Luis relates in this perspective on the meeting, the Chancellor had an entirely different agenda:

Asked to share his response to NYIC's ELL Funding Accountability Plan and its Immigrant/ELL Success Agenda, Chancellor Klein chose to focus, instead, on two major issues: his proposed Weighted Funding Formula and his New Small High Schools Initiative. He indicated he was surprised that we were not more supportive of his weighted funding formula proposals, which would provide different levels of increased funding for ELLs at the three different levels in the public schools. And, he asserted that the small high schools were critical because they provided options to high needs students (immigrant, minorities); and touted the International HS's with their "high concentration of talent and skills" on behalf of ELLs.

Most of the time was spent on the Chancellor's two issues. On the first, we responded to the first by noting the great difference in scale between the Governor's ELL budget proposal (an additional .5 weighting that would generate an unprecedented $350 million per year in additional ELL-generated funding for New York City) and the City's proposal (a weighting that ranges between $180-$300 per ELL pupil at the elementary level to $360-600 at the HS level). On the second issue, the Chancellor indicated there was a dispute about whether ELLs were proportionally represented in the small high schools. He felt they were. We felt they were not.

The bottom line, in my opinion, came down to whether or not we, the ELL/immigrant advocates, were on board with the Chancellor's initiatives or part of the opposition (what he has categorized elsewhere as the "defenders of the status-quo"). There was no owning up by the Chancellor nor his senior aides to the unwritten 2-year ELL exemption policy that has allowed many new small HS's to not admit ELLs. Nor did he respond to the issue of dismantling bilingual HS programs and leaving Haitian, Asian and Latino ELLs without equivalent options in his new small schools.

While the Chancellor did say that he was "cognizant of all the different issues", neither he nor Harries and Ellner engaged the people at the meeting regarding our comprehensive agenda. Instead, we were pushed to be cheerleaders for the Chancellor's initiatives, aked, in effect, to choose sides. Nor did the Chancellor acknowledge that a two-year $45,000 grant for ELLs to 10 new small HS's was a pittance, if not insulting, in the face of the true need.

I have to say that this was one of the most unsatisfying meetings I have attended with Chancellor Klein or with any Chancellor (and I go back 25 years now!). The truth is, that not engaging ELL/immigrant advocates on our terms, and expecting us to be defenders of his initiatives and proposals, is shortsighted, even patronizing. While understandable, given all the negative reaction to his reorganization plan, he is wrong to set himself up as the one and only champion of change. I believe he believes he's on the side of the angels, fighting for equity and real change.

Nevertheless, his tin-ear response to our advocacy on behalf of ELL/immigrants, leads me to the brink of despair. We did not arrive here yesterday; not even 5 years ago, when he was selected Chancellor by the Mayor. Many of us have been battling the Latino and ELL dropout crisis for longer than we care to say. We have grown older and tired (I speak for myself!) from presenting Chancellors with educational reform agendas premised on the need to respect our languages and cultures while insisting on real reform, real resources, and real results.

If there is one thing I would like to get across to Chancellor Klein, it is that we are neither hired help, nor unpaid flaks, and, certainly, not died-in-the-wool defenders of the status-quo. Do not patronize us! Engage us as partners, not supplicants. If you do not, you too will fail. And, if you do, so shall we. The best chance we have to make a difference will have been squandered.

For God's sake, Stop! Look! Listen! Por Dios, ¡Pare! ¡Mire! ¡Escuche! Mon Dieu, Arretez! Voyez! Ecoutez!

Luis O. Reyes


Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners (CEEELL)

March 16, 2007

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