Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times: A Case Study of a Bilingual High School for Latino Youth

Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia Garcia

Professors Lesley Bartlett and Ofelia Garcia, along with several Teachers College graduate students, conducted this four-year study on a bilingual high school in New York city.

Immigration to America continues apace, even as it has changed in important ways. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Schmidley, as cited in Leinbach & Bailey, 2006), the population of those who are foreign-born grew in the United States from 9.6 million in 1970 to 28.4 million in 2000. The 2006 American Community Survey (as cited in Rivera-Batiz, 2008) finds that this population reached 44 million, or 14.8% of the total population, in 2006. Over the course of these years, the demographics of immigrant populations have changed as well. While in earlier decades, the majority of immigrants came from Europe, by 2000 the majority—about 51%-- were coming from Latin America (Leinbach & Bailey, 2006). Logan (2001) estimates that the number of “New Latinos,” who have begun to arrive in recent years from places like the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, has more than doubled from 1990-2000, from 3.0 million to 6.1 million (Logan, 2001).

The rise in immigrants has implied a diversification, as well, of the American student population, including children of immigrants and immigrant children. Indeed, whereas children of immigrants constituted 6% of the student population in 1970, they accounted for 19% of 2000 (Capps et al p. 5). The majority of immigrant school-age children are Latino (Van Hook and Fix 2000, p. 10). Nearly thirteen percent of all schoolchildren in the United States speak Spanish as their first language. The number of English learners or emergent bilinguals in schools has grown considerably in the last decade (Zehler, Fleischman, Hopstock, Stephenson, Pendizick, & Sapru, 2003) and it is increasing at nearly seven times the rate of total student enrollment (NCELA, 2006).

Immigrant children constitute a growing but often overlooked percentage of the American student body. According to Capps et al (2002), approximately one-quarter of children of immigrants are foreign-born. Indeed, “in 2000 there were 3 million foreign-born children, accounting for 5 percent of all school-age children, up from 2 percent of children in 1970” (p. 5). First-generation immigrant children, or “newcomers,” form an increasing percentage of the school-age population, and their specific needs merit attention.

As the number of immigrant students expands, schools are faced with distinct challenges. How can schools best meet the linguistic needs of these burgeoning bilinguals, while supporting their academic development in their first language? What challenges do they face, specifically from restrictive accountability models and the political economic constraints that immigrants encounter in the United States?

This four-year qualitative study examines the educational experiences and language and literacy development of immigrants recently arrived from Spanish speaking countries in Latin America who are studying in New York City. Situated in one bilingual, New York City high school for newcomer immigrant youth, this study asks three overarching, interrelated questions:

1.How are new federal and city policies influencing the educational opportunities of newcomer Latino youth, and specifically their language and literacy practices?

2. What are the achievements and limitations of this high school model, and what can this case study teach us more broadly about educating Latino newcomer immigrant youth?

3. How are recently-arrived Latino immigrant youth negotiating the new social structures, institutions, and social relations they find upon arrival in New York in their quest to graduate from high school?