The rise of small high schools has decimated programs for students whose native language is not English, making the students more likely to drop out.

That’s the conclusion of a report released today by two watchdog groups that look out for immigrant students, Advocates for Children of New York and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The groups studied two large, low-performing high schools that the city decided to replace with small, themed schools and found that students who are classified as English language learners enrolled in smaller numbers in the new schools. Students who did enroll often did not receive the services they needed, the groups found.

What’s more, according to the report, most of the new schools are too small to offer a range of language services:

State law mandates that schools create bilingual programs if they enroll more than 20 students in the same grade who speak the same native language. The DOE has interpreted this mandate to mean that parents of 20 students in the same grade who speak the same language must “opt-in” to select a bilingual program – and that merely meeting the numerical enrollment threshold is insufficient. In It Takes a Village’s case, school staff report that at least 20 parents of Haitian-speaking ELLs had in fact opted-in to a bilingual program, but the school nonetheless did not create such a program.

ELL students who attend large high schools that are in the process of closing have access to progressively more limited language support services, and some schools have even encouraged students to drop out and instead aim for a GED as specialized language programs are phased out, according to the report.

The city says new small schools now enroll their fair share of ELLs, after a 2007 policy change that required new schools to accept ELLs from the start. But the report concludes that ELLs are concentrated in schools that are set up expressly to serve them, with 17 of 233 small high schools enrolling 43 percent of the ELLs in all of the schools last year.

Empty Promises Report 6-16-09