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Investigation Questions Whether District Meets Needs of Bilingual Students

Chicago Public Schools students who are still learning the English language are overwhelmingly not getting the support they need.

That’s according to an investigation by the Chicago Reporter, which says the district and the state share responsibility in failing to provide adequate services to English-language learners.

The Reporter started with a school-by-school audit of bilingual programs in the 2015-2016 school year.

They found that out of the 342 schools audited, nearly 71 percent had bilingual programs seriously in violation of state law. But the remaining 29 percent—100 schools—were mostly in compliance.

They also found that at least two dozen audited schools that were required to have bilingual teachers had none, and that 100 bilingual and English as a Second Language teaching positions remain open at the end of every school year.

The Reporter also said their investigation showed that dozens of schools lack books and other materials in the students’ native languages.

The journalist who worked on the story, Kalyn Belsha, also cites the state of Illinois which is supposed to be sure that school districts are complying with the law to provide sufficient services to students, but says Illinois has struggled with that part of the job as well.

As to those schools that were in compliance, Belsha says they didn’t find that they were in any particular neighborhoods or parts of the city, such as those with larger immigrant communities.

But she did find that many of them had very established leadership—principals who were familiar with the law and its requirements, and experienced teachers who can sometimes makeup for the lack of resources.

CPS says it was made aware of its challenges in educating bilingual students a couple of years ago, through both a report from the Council of Great City Schools and an internal audit that was completed when former CPS Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz was serving as interim CEO, before Forrest Claypool was appointed.

It says the district has since made great strides in improvement services and outcomes for bilingual students.

The district’s chief officer in the Office of Language and Cultural Education says that in the last two years, each school has developed an action plan and the district has cut the number of schools needing intensive support in half.

It’s also recruited 500 more teachers into bilingual teaching positions, by partnering with local universities to have them certified.

CPS also says it’s provided 1,500 classroom libraries for kindergarten through third grades, and doubled the number of dual-language programs in the district.

The district says it all adds up to how students perform on a test called the ACCESS test, which assesses how well bilingual students are learning.

CPS says data shows that students coming out of English-language learners can do better than students who are native-English speakers.

The district says it’s also increased the number of students receiving the state’s seal of biliteracy, meaning they have a high level of proficiency in more than one language.

While the investigation shows that charter schools were found the least compliant with state law on bilingual education, there’s one in particular that’s being considered a model for how to do it right, by receiving a state grant recently.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter: @BrandisFriedman

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