Just under 17 percent of all CPS students are considered to have limited English proficiency, and the percentage is higher in elementary schools and in Hispanic neighborhoods like Logan Square. That’s why a month ago the Logan Square Neighborhood Association sent short surveys to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his four opponents to gauge their thoughts on how English Language Learners (ELLs) should be taught. All but Emanuel sent in responses, which Substance News wrote about when they were made public last week.
Ald. Bob Fioretti, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and William “Dock” Walls all said they believe schools should support an expansion of dual language programs and the academic development of students’ home language, in addition to English acquisition. Willie Wilson, meanwhile, said helping students develop their home language shouldn’t be part of the mainstream agenda and thinks it is problematic to support an expansion of dual language programs without considering the budget implications.
When asked about their visions for strengthening supports for ELLs and their families, Fioretti said “CPS needs more bilingual teachers and staff who are patient, attentive and supportive,” and that schools should offer workshops for parents and additional tutoring for students learning English. Garcia stressed the importance of having a consistent system in schools for non-English speaking parents to communicate with teachers, instead of relying “informally on a language teacher or a teacher who happens to be bilingual.” Walls said the district should extend support to ELLs and their families through year-round learning programs. Finally, Wilson said he would promote the existing, free ESL courses offered at the City Colleges of Chicago.
2. More election thoughts …. On the eve of the election, it is worth noting that progressives are hoping for something more than a mayoral runoff. They also are hoping that voters overwhelmingly approve a non-binding referendum in 37 wards that asks if they want an elected school board. A new report by four University of Illinois-Chicago professors, including activists Pauline Lipman and Rico Gutstein, lays out the case for an elected school board.
The report finds that there is no evidence that mayoral appointed school boards are more effective, despite the argument that they are more efficient and accountable because the progress of the schools is the responsibility of the mayor. The report points out the Chicago’s appointed school board has emphasized privatization and creating selective programs, has approved risky financial deals and allows for limited public input.
Emanuel is against an elected school board, saying that it would bring too much politics into education. CPS has never had an elected school board and has relied on different arrangements including a nominating commission.
3. Dear Congress… Emanuel and United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax co-authored a scathing rebuke Friday of Republican efforts to cut federal education funding in favor of “local control.” In an open letter to Real Clear Education, the two public figures blasted congressional Republicans for their efforts to strip testing and manipulate Title I funding in the newest draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. They specifically took aim at a measure in the draft, passed by the House Education Committee along party lines last week, that would divert Title I dollars to follow low-income families to the public school of their choice. Echoing a similar outcry from the White House, Emanuel and Lomax say this policy means “Chicago could lose up to $64 million to middle class schools in surrounding high-income communities.”
They continued that conservative leaders across the country “want to weaken accountability and eliminate consequences for chronically under-performing schools.” Republicans in Congress have voiced support for eliminating mandates for yearly standardized testing, but an amendment proposed by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) to let states audit the number of tests given to students each year was voted down. The draft is scheduled for a full House vote thisweek.
The letter, which identifies economic inequality and opportunity gaps as a problem that’s stymied education progress for decades, gives credit to federal maneuvers like Title I and congressional grants for national advances in graduation rates and college enrollment. It’s because of programs like these, they say, that Chicago’s high school graduation rate has climbed to “nearly 70 percent and we’re on track to meet or beat the national average within four years.”
4. About those proposed cuts … The Chicago Tribune took a deep look at how Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget would impact Chicago — and especially its beleaguered school district. Though the governor proposes increasing general aid for schools by $290 million, “CPS officials estimate that the state’s current funding formula means they will actually lose $16 million,” according to the story. In addition, CPS officials say they expect a $10 million cut in funds to the Safe Passages program — the same amount of money former Gov. Pat Quinn had announced last fall during a press conference with Emanuel. Also on the chopping block: $62 million from Chicago teacher pensions.
Though Emanuel officially backed Quinn, a Democrat, in the gubernatorial race, he and Rauner “had long operated side by side among the city’s corporate elite,” the story notes. This includes professional dealings worth millions of dollars. In addition, Rauner and wife Diana “gave $2 million to the mayor’s program to give bonuses to school principals, and both were appointed to advisory roles soon after Emanuel was elected in 2011.” This has made it easy for critics to argue that Emanuel’s comments against Rauner’s budget last week “may be more for show ahead of the election.”
5. Examining white privilege… The New York Times has an interesting article about elite private schools focusing diversity initiatives on talking about race and privilege, rather than on helping minority students adjust. Such initiatives are taking many different forms from a seventh-grade class reading “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” to white “affinity groups.” Schools are also sending students to an annual conference on white privilege.
A Chicago Reader article last year examined the lack of diversity in private schools and questioned the idea that elite schools such as the University of Chicago Lab School are truly diverse. While there may be some black, Asian and Latino students, the article notes that everyone in the schools comes from wealthier families and therefore students have an unrealistic vision of the world.