New York City schools will add more dual-language programs, officials said Monday, continuing a push to improve outcomes for English learners while also meeting the growing demand for such programs among native English-speaking families.

Beginning this fall, 29 new or expanded dual-language programs will launch, with teachers delivering lessons in math, history, and other subjects in English and another language, including Chinese, French, Haitian-Creole, Arabic, Polish, and Spanish. Those programs are designed to serve a mix of students who are still learning English and ones who are proficient, with each group picking up a second language while also learning math, science, and other subject content.

The city will also start nine new transitional bilingual programs, which are designed to gradually shift instruction for English learners from their native language to English.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that an increasing number of parents are requesting dual-language programs in particular, which a growing body of research shows can help students become bilingual and can narrow the test-score gap between native English speakers and English learners. In line with national trends, the city’s English learners are far less likely to pass the state math and English exams and to graduate.

The ability to speak multiple languages is “a gift, it’s a pleasure, it’s something that’s going to make you much more employable,” Fariña said at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies in Manhattan. “More importantly, it’s going to make you a citizen of the world.”

Fariña, whose parents were Spanish immigrants, has made the expansion of dual-language programs a top priority. Last year, she created or expanded 40 dual-language programs, and chose 15 schools with outstanding programs to serve as models.

She has also highlighted those programs as a tool for school integration, since they often serve students from a mix of ethnic backgrounds and can attract middle-class families to schools they might not otherwise consider.

Still, the vast majority of the city’s roughly 142,000 non-native English speakers take most of their classes in English. Only about 18 percent of those students are enrolled in bilingual programs, down from about 40 percent in 2002, according to one study. The majority of those programs are transitional bilingual, with just 154 of the city’s 1,600 traditional public schools offering dual-language programs.

The city is under state pressure to sharply increase the number of bilingual programs. In 2013, after receiving state orders to create a “corrective action plan,” the city promised to open 125 new bilingual programs. And in 2014, the city reached an agreement with the state to make bilingual programs available to all English learners by 2018 — an ambitious goal, considering that about 116,000 English learners are currently enrolled in English-only programs.

The push to create more bilingual programs is based largely on research showing that, over time, English learners in dual-language programs tend to outperform peers in English-only classes. A study of Portland schools found that English learners who enrolled in dual-language programs in kindergarten had gained the equivalent of an extra year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared to peers in English-only classes.

“The research has shown time and again that dual language is the most effective academic program for these students,” said Amaya Garcia, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation who studies English learners.

Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, said the program had taught her to embrace diversity and work through challenges.
Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, said the program had taught her to embrace diversity and work through challenges.

The city faces several hurdles as it tries to ramp up its number of dual-language programs, including finding qualified bilingual teachers and ensuring that the programs are high quality.

Edward Rubio, an education policy analyst who was formerly the research director in the city education department’s English learners office, said that dual-language programs can be hard to maintain because only a portion of students are English learners who bring the school additional funding. He added that dual-language programs must be properly implemented in order to benefit students.

“I’m very grateful that the chancellor has been advocating for dual-language programs,” he said. “But I think we should pause and have a meaningful conversation about the quality of these programs.”

The 36 participating schools will receive a $25,000 federal planning grant for a dual-language program, or a $10,000 grant for a transitional bilingual program. Each school will also get $5,000 to buy books in different languages for their classroom libraries.

An education department spokeswoman said teachers at those schools would receive additional training, and that department officials visit bilingual programs to monitor their quality.

Fariña acknowledged that recruiting bilingual teachers is a major challenge, but said she has several plans to address it. Those include partnering with local universities to train more teachers and asking the state to allow bilingual educators from other states to teach in New York without having to earn new licenses.

Thalia Baeza Milan, a junior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, already spoke English and Spanish by the time she arrived in the U.S. three years ago from Guyana, so she decided to learn Chinese. She said the experience has helped her appreciate different cultures and work through difficulties – like mixing up the words for “fried chicken” and “acrobat.”

“I know the steps to overcoming challenges and the steps to being comfortable in an environment I’ve never been in before,” she said. “That’s something that will be helpful.”