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  • Empty Promises: A Case Study of Restructuring and the Exclusion of English Language Learners in Two Brooklyn High Schools

    This 2009 report by AFC and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) studied the restructuring of two large Brooklyn high schools to understand how the small schools movement impacted English Language Learners (ELLs). The report illustrates how as a result of this movement, ELLs—who experience some of the lowest graduation rates in the city—are left with fewer and fewer options or are simply left behind.

    Jun 16, 2009

    Midsections of two teenage girls with backpacks walking on the sidewalk carrying notebooks. (Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels)
    Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

    In June 2009, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released a report that illustrates how English Language Learners (ELLs) have gotten the short end of the stick in the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE’s) much touted initiative to close large schools and replace them with small ones. Using student enrollment and teacher assignment data combined with student and teacher interviews, the report examines the phase-out of Lafayette High School in Bensonhurst and Tilden High School in East Flatbush.

    The report shows that in the years leading up to the DOE’s decisions to close these schools, Tilden and Lafayette saw their populations of ELL students, students with special needs and overage and under-credited students grow significantly. Once the schools started phasing out, they reduced services for ELLs who stayed behind and, in some cases, pushed them into GED classes against their will.

    The new, small high schools that moved onto the campuses did not replace the ELL supports and services lost by the large schools’ closures. “The majority of the small schools replacing Tilden and Lafayette took few, if any, ELL students and often failed to provide them with legally mandated ELL programming,” said AALDEF staff attorney Khin Mai Aung.

    The report further highlights how the closing of these schools resulted in the loss of two large and diverse bilingual education programs, and also caused ELL enrollment to increase in surrounding large high schools, which may put those schools at greater risk of closure in the future.

    “The DOE will not get a second chance with the hundreds, probably thousands, of ELLs who have not received proper services, have been forced to attend large failing high schools, or have been pushed out of school,” said Arlen Benjamin-Gomez, AFC staff attorney. “As the DOE moves forward with its plans to close down more large high schools, meeting the needs of ELLs must be part of those plans.”

    The report recommends that when the DOE closes a large school, it should consider and plan for how the closure will affect the school’s ELL population, including the ELL students left behind in the closing school, new ELL students who wish to enroll in the building and ELL students who will inevitably enroll in large schools surrounding the closing one.

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