Failing Immigrant Students and Families
As speculation continues about whether Michael Bloomberg will run for president, his team has done largely successful image control. The discussion about his merits as a candidate hinge on whether "meanstream" America would vote for someone who is short, Jewish, and from the Northeast. This same type of identity analysis greeted the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
Beyond discussion, though, is Bloomberg's merits as a can-do guy, who speaks his mind, is above partisan politics and uses his private sector know-how to get government buracracies working.
In New York City, though, there is some reason to question the efficacy of the Bloomberg Administration's team at the Department of Education. A year and a half ago, with great fanfare, Mayor Bloomberg and his Education Chancellor, Joel Klein, announced new regulations that require increased translation and interpretation services at public schools throughout the city.
They drew attention to the importance of parent involvement in promoting student academic success, the fact that one in four New York City parents does not speak or understand English "well," and the school system's historic difficulties educating new immigrant students. They promised a new day at the Department of Education, committing millions of new dollars and evincing a real commitment to promote equal opportunity for all New York City students.
Outside the flashing cameras of the Blue Room at City Hall, though, this commitment has been less evident. After surveying almost 900 parents, conducting 14 focus groups with over a hundred parents, and visiting more than 100 schools, registration centers, and borough high school fairs, a coalition of immigrant and education organizations released a report last week that found major failures in Bloomberg's implementation of his new rulles.
The report documented that two out of three parents are not receiving the most critical school document, their child’s report card, in a language that they can understand. Similarly, over one third (37%) of the parents surveyed did not receive translated notices to attend parent-teacher conferences. Sixty percent of parents surveyed were not aware of the translation and interpretation services available to them.
The cost of this failure can be seen in the fact that only slightly more than twenty percent of New York City's English Language Learner population graduates high school on time.
Sadly, on language access in the schools, Bloomberg seems all too much like a fast-talking political operator, strong on spin, terribly weak on substance.