Buffalo and Rochester Schools Fail English Language Learners and Bilingual Students

Buffalo and Rochester Schools Fail English Language Learners and Bilingual Students

By: Edwin Martinez

For some 30 years, Buffalo, Rochester and for the most part school districts around the nation have failed to deliver on Bilingual Education. Although,  many Millions of dollars, if not, Billions on the national stage has been invested, full programing has never been achieved. The end results, high drop out rates and low achievement scores.

Bilingual students are dropping out of schools at alarming rates and those who graduate can barley make it in a community college because of lack of preparation.

Recent discussions with Higher Education officials indicated that too many Bilingual student are unable to meet the basic requirements for entry into a community college or 4 year college. College officials indicate, that the students they do allow into their colleges are spending too much time catching up on basic math and english skills, which eat up their financial aid for college. Often, their financial aid is exhausted just taking courses to catch up, leaving little or not enough funds to Graduate.

In recent years the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY has engage with current schools superintendent Kriner Cash to address the ongoing problem of high drop-out and low achievement scores for English Language Learners and Bilingual Students. Yet, two years later and no progress has been achieved. The district remains out of compliance with state law.

The State Education Department has hired an outside firm to review Buffalo’s and Rochester Bilingual  Programs and make recommendations to bring them into compliance with the law. The Report should be published within the next month.

Over the last three decade, the number of students in the Buffalo and Rochester Public Schools learning English as a new language has more than doubled, and now account for nearly 1 in every 5 kids enrolled in the city school system.

But Latino, immigrant and refugee leaders are concerned there are too few bilingual teachers to address the poor academic results seen among so many of these students.

And while they have seen the district somewhat bolster its bilingual education for Spanish-speaking students, there still are many more languages to consider – 83 in all spoken throughout the district.

“Our main concern has been, ‘What about these other communities?’” Said Edwin Martinez “What about the Somali  speakers? Or the Nepali speakers? Or the Bhutanese speakers or the speakers from South Rwanda or South Sudan?”

Here’s the problem: Where do you find qualified teachers who speak those languages?

In the past, Buffalo Schools depended on Dr. Lillian Malave’s Bilingual Program at The University at Buffalo and Buffalo State College for Bilingual Teachers. However, over the last 20 years those institutions have cut back or almost totally eliminated their Bilingual Programs, this in a time of most need. Today, the only institution providing Bilingual or ESL training nearby seem to be Fredonia College an hours drive from Buffalo.

Buffalo Schools has been slow to recruit teachers from around the country and only recently starting recruiting teachers from Puerto Rico and other School districts around the country.

Community Advocate have been recommending for the last 20 years that the Buffalo School system develop a pipeline for Bilingual Teachers with the many local schools of higher education in the Buffalo region, however, the Buffalo District has been unwilling or unable to promote and build a successful Bilingual program in the City of Buffalo. Currently Director of Multilingual Services seems to have the same obstacles today, lack of support from School district leaders or an inability to develop a successful program.  In any event, The Bilingual programs in Buffalo and Rochester remain out of compliance with State Law, denying school children equal and accessable education.

In 2008, the district enrolled 2,700 students whose primary language was not English. That number has reached almost 6,200 and the district only has 50 Bilingual teachers according to district figures from October.

Rising numbers of English language learners

The number of students in Buffalo Public Schools learning English as a new language has more than doubled the past decade. This year, almost 1 out of 5 students in the district is an English language learner.

Earlier this year, The Latino went public with their concerns about the low graduation rate for the city’s English language-learners, 27 percent, and their high drop-out rate, 42 percent. The organization believes an underlying issue is the need for more bilingual educators who can teach in a student’s native language while the pupil is adjusting to English.

The district does employ 50 certified bilingual education teachers, but all of those are Spanish-speaking and not nearly enough to meet the demands and requirments of all students. Let alone, meet the requirments under law.

The district also has more than 200 teachers who teach English as a new language.  Those are teachers who speak English, but are trained to use a variety of strategies, including visual aids, to teach kids who speak another language. The problem with this is the Teachers can’t communicate with their students.

The Latino Community and other groups returned to Superintendent Kriner Cash and his staff last month and reminded the district it was out of compliance with state education law that requires districts to have a bilingual education program if they have at least 20 students per grade who speak the same foreign language.

The group asked the district to ramp up its recruitment of bilingual teachers, to add as many as 150 over the next five years. In the short term, the group asked that next year the district add 15 new teachers who are either bilingual or teach English as a new language.

“We recognize, given there are 83 languages in Buffalo schools, that we’re not going to be able to get bilingual teachers for every language, so we want to start with the top eight,” said Edwin Martinez

Among the 83 languages in the school district, a third of them are spoken by only one or two kids, according to district figures. The vast majority of English language learners in the district speak one of eight languages. Those languages are, in order by the number of students who speak them: Spanish – by far the most common  – Arabic, Karen, Somali, Burmese, Swahili, Bengali and Nepali.