Language Partners

In pact to boost services for English learners, city says it no longer needs arm-twisting

State Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Carmen Fariña sign an agreement on goals to raise outcomes for English language learners.

Three years after being pressured to improve the education of English language learners, city officials under a new regime say they will tackle the problems without any arm-twisting.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner John King on Monday agreed to increase enrollment in bilingual programs, put more qualified teachers in their classrooms, better match newly-arrived students with language services, and hold principals accountable for implementing their plan. The agreement sets yearly targets but did not include details about how the city will meet those goals.

Whether school districts do enough to provide non-English speaking students with equal educational opportunities has been under scrutiny for decades. In recent years, federal civil rights agencies have become more aggressive in their enforcement of civil rights laws, taking action in districts like Boston and Los Angeles. In 2011, New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg was put on a “corrective action plan” by the state, and agreed to open 125 bilingual programs in three years and reduce the share of newly-arrived students who weren’t tested for language services in a timely manner.

By 2013, a report from the city showed that the city had created 60 bilingual programs in two years and reduced the percentage of students who weren’t tested in a timely manner to less than 2 percent. That report was authored by Angelica Infante, then a top official with the city Department of Education. A top state education official responded two months later to say the city’s work has “satisfactorily met” its requirements.

But Infante, now the state’s top bilingual education official, said Monday that the city’s efforts had come up short when she was there.

“We honestly believe that there is a level of commitment that we have not experienced before,” Infante said.

The 13-page memorandum of understanding that King and Fariña signed Monday in midtown Manhattan offers an outline of the city’s plans. Some of the goals will likely be easier to obtain than others.

For instance, all students will need to be enrolled in one of three types of bilingual programs by the 2018-19 school year. A 2013 report said that just 159 students, or 0.2 percent, weren’t enrolled in a bilingual program and another 4,111 students were not receiving bilingual services and had personalized learning plans due to a disability.

The city also agreed to make all high schools hit ELL enrollment targets by the 2016-17 school year, cut down on the number of students who have received language services for more than six years, and make sure all language teachers are properly credentialed by the 2018-19 school year.

But the city declined to provide updated figures that it will use to measure progress around these goals. A spokeswoman said they would be “established over the next few weeks.”

State officials were also vague about how it would enforce its new agreement. Infante said the state’s intervention will “be dependent upon where the movement has not happened.”

The city has already made a few changes that Fariña touted after the signing event, which was held at Instituto Cervantes, a cultural center funded by the Spanish government.

First, the city set aside $13 million in the budget to support the initiative, much of which would go toward training teachers. The city already hosted an all-day professional development session for more than 300 teachers last week, “something they haven’t had in years,” Fariña said.

Fariña has said she wants to create 40 dual-language programs, in which fluency in both English and another language are equally encouraged, and is asking principals to apply to host those programs.

“It’s really a whole different mindset about how we’re doing this work,” Fariña said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”