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Testimony of Deycy Avitia, Coordinator of Education Advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, for the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Education’s Public Hearing on NYC School Governance

Testimony of Deycy Avitia, Coordinator of Education Advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, for the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Education’s Public Hearing on NYC School Governance

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking the State Assembly Education Committee and Chairwoman Cathy Nolan for convening these hearings and initiating a more robust debate on Mayoral Control and for recognizing the need to look at how English Language Learners (ELLs) have fared in the last four years. My name is Deycy Avitia and I am the Coordinator of Education Advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition. For the last twelve years, the NYIC has coordinated an Immigrant and ELL Education Collaborative, which fights for increased access and opportunities for immigrant and ELL students.

Twelve years ago, immigrant communities saw a huge education deficit in their schools- immigrant parents were largely shut out of their schools, immigrant and ELL students were more likely to attend underfunded schools, and these students were considerably more likely to dropout of high school. Fast-forward twelve years, and the Collaborative continues to work on many of the same issues.

While we acknowledge some important progress that has been made with elementary school ELLs, the results for middle and high school ELLs still lack significantly. Let’s consider some facts:

· Barely a quarter (23%) of ELL students graduate high school in four years– less than half the rate of English Proficient students. As you can see on the first graph of the ELL Fact Sheet (see attachment), this represented a decrease of 3 percentage points from the 2005 four-year ELL graduation rate of 26.5%. Given that advocates have widely documented that many ELL students are pushed out of high school into GED programs, it is important to look at state data, which -unlike the city- does not include GEDs and IEPs (Independent Education Plans) in their graduation numbers. We agree with the Department of Education (DOE) that the state needs to track graduation rates beyond four years.
· Only one-tenth of ELLs graduate with a Regents Diploma. At the same time that resources to help immigrant and ELL students succeed are threatened by budget cuts, all students, starting with this year’s ninth-graders, will now be required to earn a Regents diploma to graduate high school. We believe these reforms will ultimately ensure high standards for our students, however, we also know that without appropriate safeguards, this unfunded policy mandate has the potential of intensifying the already dire dropout crisis facing ELL students.
· The Crisis Facing Middle and High School ELLs Cannot Be Underplayed (See graphs B and C on ELL Fact Sheet). In 2007, only 5% of ELL students in NYC met 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) standards compared with 43% of non-ELL students. This gap has persisted over the past eight years. We agree that more appropriate assessments must be developed, in the meantime the City still has a responsibility for ensuring ELL students gain English proficiency and progress in academic reading and writing. ELL enrollment rates swell in 9th and 10th grade due to increases in immigrant student enrollment in those grades; however, by the 11th grade, nearly half of ELLs disappear from school rosters. These students likely dropped out or were pushed out of school into GED programs. These statistics are the reason we are forced to set off the alarm.
Though this picture may sound grim, it is also important to note that former ELLs have a higher graduation rate than English proficient students, showing that once these students receive the support they need, they actually push the City’s overall performance up.

The NYIC is also here as part of the Campaign for Better Schools (C4BS), a coalition of community and advocacy groups seeking to make critical improvements to governance of our schools in New York City, most notably in the areas of public participation, checks and balances, and transparency. The recommendations we are proposing as part of the Campaign for Better School will ensure that our system addresses the needs of all students.

Immigrant students, particularly Students with Interrupted Formal Education and Immigrant Youth are still not getting the supports they need to succeed. In addition, most key school reforms like charter schools and small schools have either ignored or have failed to provide sufficient supports for students learning English. The C4BS supports increased help for ELLs and recommends a system for notifying communities about the impact of school closings and openings in their neighborhood and a DOE plan for serving ELL, special education, and other underserved communities.

Immigrant parents and communities continue to feel alienated from important decisions in their children’s schools. We acknowledge the DOE for working with immigrant communities to fund and establish a Chancellor’s Regulation that makes it easier for parents to communicate with schools in a language they can understand. While language access is the necessary first step for parent participation, it alone is not sufficient to ensure that they are able to meaningfully participate in their children’s school and education. Immigrant parents have largely been unable to participate in school leadership bodies. The Campaign for Better Schools is recommending structures that will increase parent leadership and outreach and training opportunities that will greatly improve opportunities for participation for immigrant parents.

We look forward to working with the State Legislature to ensure a more democratic governance structure that guarantees improved outcomes for historically undeserved students, particularly English Language Learners and immigrant students.

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