End of desegregation decree spurs questions about bilingual education

Print More

MALDEF is holding a closed door meeting with community activists this Saturday to quell anxiety about CPS’ obligation to bilingual education, post the federal desegregation consent decree. The desegregation decree, lifted last month, included a provision that required the district to provide services to English Language Learners.

 

 

MALDEF is holding a closed door meeting with community activists this Saturday to quell anxiety about CPS’ obligation to bilingual education, post the federal desegregation consent decree. The desegregation decree, lifted last month, included a provision that required the district to provide services to English Language Learners.

Ricardo Meza, regional counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), says he received e-mails from several people worried about what the end of the decree will mean. His message is that state law still requires CPS to provide the services, yet he acknowledges that getting them to do so can be tricky.

Students who don’t meet standards on a language proficiency test are put in ELL or English as a Second Language classes (Students in schools with fewer than 20 students who speak the same language are put in ESL, which are taught in English; ELL classes are in a students native language and English). After three years, students are supposed to be able to pass the language proficiency test and be transitioned out of these classes.

But Chicago has historically had a difficult time moving students out in a timely fashion. A story in the December 2007 issue of Catalyst, revealed that only 45 percent of ELL students transitioned out in three years and, two years after they left, 71 percent of them failed to meet standards in reading.

Principals have complained that there aren’t enough quality bilingual teachers. A Commission on World Language and Bilingual Education was formed in 2007 to study the issue and produced a report with recommendations, but their report has never been publicly released. (We have been told it is because of political reasons and perhaps had something to do with the pending desegregation decree.)

“We know for a fact that there are hundreds of kids who aren’t receiving these services,” Meza says. “The question is: where are these kids, and are their parents willing to come forward and assert their rights?”

Case in point: A group of parents at Humboldt Park’s Stowe School, a mostly Latino school with a third of its students in ELL, have complained for years that their children need more bilingual teachers. This fall, after promises went unfulfilled, they even picketed outside the office of State Rep. Cynthia Soto.

Meza says he would like to let parents like the ones at Stowe know that they still have rights and that MALDEF wants to help them. Meza says he hopes by communicating to community leaders the message will trickle down.

As for community demonstrations; they are admirable and understandable, says Meza, but don’t always yield concrete results. “I can appreciate the parents’ frustration,” he says. “Our organization doesn’t have the resources to protest, but we do have the resources to investigate the legality behind these issues.”

During the last hearing on the decree in January, attorneys for the United States and MALDEF presented evidence that some ELL students weren’t in bilingual classes and others were being short changed. In terminating the decree, Judge Charles P. Kocoras did not specifically address the validity of these charges.

Rather he decided that state law already demands that the district provide bilingual education and that the decree just mimicked the law.