New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen FariÃ±a recently gave some startling advice to parents attending a community meeting concerning school foreign-language programs at the George Washington Educational Campus. A mother of a seventh-grade student at Harlem's Mott Hall School complained that her son would not be having French class two days a week, but only on one.
Vinita Singla and Carl Campanile, writing for the New York Post, report the school chancellor's response:
"I'm going to give you my grandmother advice to this one. I have a 9-year-old grandson that loves language and I bought him Rosetta Stone for the holiday," FariÃ±a told the working-class parents. "That's something I strongly recommend. It's very exciting."
She added that the commercial language program could be offered in after-school programs and that making computers available would be the only requirement necessary. However, the Rosetta Stone program is priced at approximately $200, while one-fourth of Inwood-Washington Heights families have incomes below the poverty level.
To add insult to injury, the chancellor earns from her salary and pension $412,913 annually. She also reminded the parent who complained that her son was attending one of NYC's most highly-rated public schools, Mott Hall, which also has a strong math and science emphasis.
Zakiyah Ansari, an advocacy director for the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education, called the chancellor's comments unfortunate, especially since 50% of New York City's students live below the poverty line.
Mott Hall teachers were quick to respond as well, expressing their surprise that FariÃ±a would suggest a solution that might not be affordable to many families. Some called it unfair, and others said it would be one more element that could "pit the haves against the have-nots."
The Department of Education said that the chancellor's remarks were taken out of context.
"As a former English-language learner, Chancellor FariÃ±a created the first stand-alone Division for English Language Learners and Student Support to ensure the DOE has a clear focus on ELL students," said DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye.
During the last school year, NYC created 40 new dual-language programs and enlarged the programs at schools city-wide. Dual-language programs are parents' most requested classes, with 154 such classes in existence currently, writes Carolina Pichardo for DNAinfo.
The principal of the Mott Hall School, Judith de los Santos, said reducing the foreign language classes was a necessary action because the school was already exceeding the number of years foreign language was required to be taught. Students at Mott Hall were able to take the class in eighth grade to satisfy the one-year requirement, but students were also being taught in the seventh grade.
A former Mayor Michael Bloomberg-appointed schools chancellor, Cathleen Black, once responded to angry protests about classroom overcrowding by telling parents to deal with the problem through birth control, write the editors of the New York Post. FariÃ±a's comments were just as obtuse, they concluded.
Even though FariÃ±a works for an administration that sees government as the answer to most problem and is close with the unions, she suggested that a private-sector learning system could do a better job at teaching students than NYC's union teachers. The editors said they were surprised at FariÃ±a's uncharacteristic statements.