Dual-language schools face challenges

Ninety New York City public schools use a dual-language curriculum to teach children from Spanish-speaking homes. The idea is that the students simultaneously attain Spanish literacy while they learn English, and will eventually be able to master subject matter in both tongues.

But students at many of the city’s dual-language schools are not faring well on standardized tests.

Feet in Two Worlds portrays one of those schools, PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, as a vibrant community of learners that has won praise from parents and the city. But the school got a D for student performance and a B for student progress on its last report card.

The school’s principal Christina Fuentes brushed off these results, saying, “Test scores are a fickle measure,” but acknowledged that her students weren’t likely to achieve high scores, and a CUNY professor who specializes in the area says the deck is stacked against students who aren’t fluent in English.

Fuentes and other educators maintain that in addition to keeping the children in touch with their heritage, bilingualism has long-term benefits, particularly in terms of employment opportunities.

But PS 24’s students will graduate to English-only middle schools, where they may fare poorly in academic subjects. The solution, Fuentes contends, is to continue dual-language schooling beyond elementary school.

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