Latino Charter School Operator Promotes English Immersion

The United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) began as a Latino advocacy group in Chicago in the 1980s. But now the UNO name is known more for education, as a charter school operator running ten K-8 schools and one high school.

UNO enrolls about 6,500 students, about 95% of whom are Hispanic, 93% low-income and 38% English Language Learners.

The group still emphasizes serving Hispanic students. What I find interesting is that the system emphasizes using English immersion techniques for English Language Learners. The school system’s web site emphasizes that the curriculum offers “a complete American experience.”

Juan Rangel, CEO of UNO, recently emphasized the approach in an essay about how to best educate Hispanic children for Education Next. Rangel himself did not speak English when he enrolled in kindergarten, The New York Times noted in a profile of him. He was born in Brownsville, Texas, to undocumented immigrant parents from Mexico.

“I picked up the language so fast,” he told the Times.

In his most recent essay for Education Next, he promotes the necessity for schools to promote assimilation to immigrant children.

Rangel’s support of English immersion is interesting, given that many Latino educators support the bilingual education model. Illinois is one of the states that uses bilingual education to educate ELLs. Rangel points out that his students perform better than those in Chicago Public Schools on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

In particular, the following passage stands out:

“Immigrants and native-born Americans alike recognize English as a unifying feature of American society and as a key to immigrant advancement. Poor English-language skills not only delay full assimilation for our community, but also deny Hispanics full access to American opportunity. UNO chose English-language immersion over the traditional bilingual transition program to teach English to its children and families.

Structured English-language immersion challenges the conventional approach to educating English language learners (ELL). Our students’ limited English-language skills could easily be used as an excuse for low performance or a need for unlimited resources, but we see it as a necessity for teachers to differentiate their instruction to reach all learners, including ELL students. Most pragmatically, English immersion is effective in closing the performance gap between ELLs and their peers nationwide, and is financially viable and scalable—unlike the many bilingual transition programs that require untenable complements of teachers and resources and produce mixed results at best.

I believe, and our schools’ performance bears this out, that a well-rounded, rigorous program with excellent teachers and leaders works with any population of students, and works especially well for Hispanic immigrant children.”

According to the Illinois Interactive Report Card, about 76 percent of UNO students met or exceeded state standards. The system does face academic struggles–it did not make adequate yearly progress.

Related Links:

– UNO (United Neighborhood Organization) Charter Schools Network.

– “Emphasize Civic Responsibility and Good Citizenship,” Juan Rangel, Education Next.

– 2012 Illinois School Report Card for UNO Network Charter Schools.

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“Abriendo Puertas” Program to Expand in Chicago

The “Abriendo Puertas” program aims to empower Hispanic parents to be their children’s first teacher. The initiative, which stands for “Opening Doors” in English, targets parents in Spanish who have children ages zero to five years old.

The Latino Policy Forum recently announced an effort to expand the program’s reach in the Chicago area. The Forum, which has offered the program since 2010, plans on training 1,000 parents in the region by the end of its third year. About 540 parents have been trained since its inception.

Nationally, the program has sites in 31 states serving more than 22,000 families. Parents learn in ten sessions about topics including nutrition, parents as advocates and communication.

The Forum has tracked the attitudes of participating parents. Among the findings:

  • About 22 percent of parents were not confident about teaching their children language before going through the program, compared with 83 percent afterwards.
  • About 18 percent of parents said they knew “little” to “nothing” about school expectations at first, compared with 74 percent after completing the program.
  • About 98.5 percent of the parents felt confident about teaching their children before they enter kindergarten, after completing the program. This included basic skills such as counting, learning colors and letters.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, surveyed hundreds of parent participants and found that they improved their knowledge about early learning and brain development , developing literacy and helping their children be successful at school. They also came away more confident about their parenting skills.

The Policy Forum will be offering a workshop on how to train parents from Nov. 26-28 in Chicago. The group expects 14 organizations that serve Latinos to attend, including schools districts and nonprofit groups.

Other programs focusing on Latino parents with similar parent involvement models include HIPPY and AVANCE.

Related Links:

– “Metro Chicago Latino Parent Leadership Program to Train 1,000 by End of its Third Year.” Latino Policy Forum.

– “Abriendo Puertas” Program Gives Latino Parents a Boost. Latino Ed Beat. 

– “Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors Network.” National Head Start Association. 

Study Analyzes Suspension Rates by Race, Ethnicity and Disability

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has released a study of nearly 7,000 school districts finding that about 7 percent of Latino students received out-of-school suspensions at least once during the 2009-10 school year.

The “Opportunities Suspended” report used federal data and also found that 5 percent of white students and 17 percent of black students received out-of-school suspensions. Male students with disabilities had particularly high suspension rates. The data represented about 85 percent of the nation’s public school students. The group warned that students who are suspended at high rates are more likely to drop out and end up in the juvenile justice system.

These averages obscure the fact that there are school districts and states with significantly higher suspension rates. In Connecticut, about 14 percent of Latino students had been suspended at least once–the highest average of any state in the nation. In the Hartford, Connecticut, schools about 44 percent of Latino students had been suspended. In the Thornton Township High School District in Illinois, about 42 percent of Latino students had been suspended.

The report warned that suspension rates among minority male students with disabilities were disturbingly high. This group of students was also likely to be suspended multiple times within the same year. In the Chicago Public Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once, compared with a shocking 73 percent of black students and 20 percent of white students.

However, some districts recorded lower suspension rates of Latino students than white students. In the Memphis City Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once. By comparison, about 53 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students had suspensions. However, in Memphis, the suspension rates among all racial and ethnic groups was disturbingly high.

Earlier in the summer, the project, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Fall River Public Schools in Massachusetts for its high suspension rates of minority and disabled students. Data there revealed that 23 percent of Latino students, 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of white students had been suspended.

Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell poses an interesting question on her Learning the Language blog: How often are English language learners suspended? It’s not a question that’s answered in the report, unfortunately.

You can mine these data to find out where your district or state stands compared with the national average.

Related Links:

– “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School.” The Civil Rights Project. 

– “Fall River Public Schools suspend black and Latino students, and students with disabilities, at unusually high rates.” The Civil Rights Project.

– “Researchers sound alarm over black student suspensions.” Education Week.

– “Disabled students almost twice as likely to be suspended, analysis finds.” The New York Times. 

– “Fall River schools facing scrutiny.” The Boston Globe.

Many Suburban Chicago Schools Fail to Provide Bilingual Programs

Many suburban Chicago school districts are failing to provide bilingual education programs as required by state law, a recent Catalyst Chicago analysis shows.

Illinois law requires that schools with 20 or more students sharing the same native language must offer a bilingual education program to qualified students. Catalyst found that between 2009 and 2011, of 58 suburban districts visited by monitors, about 40 percent–or 22 districts– failed to provide a bilingual program. None met all requirements for serving English language learners. These results are important because the majority of the state’s Latinos now live in the suburbs.

According to coverage by the Chicago News Cooperative:

Compliance problems included bilingual courses taught by teachers who lacked required language or subject-matter certification, classes with substandard content, and failure to make yearly assessments of how well students are learning English.

Many of the suburbs struggle to find enough certified bilingual teachers. Some have turned to sheltered English instruction for English language learners. There are some successful dual-language instruction programs, but teacher shortages limit the expansion of those.

“There is a lot of hardship on some districts to comply where there are newer populations” of English-language learners, Reyna Hernandez told the Chicago News Cooperative. She is assistant superintendent of the Center for Language and Early Childhood Development at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Catalyst reports that the state is considering changes that could reduce the number of schools requiring certified bilingual teachers and that would reduce instruction in the native language taking place in bilingual programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the state of bilingual education in Illinois, Catalyst has posted a series of articles on the topic online. The stories point out issues with bilingual programs in the Chicago Public Schools. Namely, that some children aren’t becoming English proficient even after spending years in the program. So even when bilingual education programs are offered as required by law, they’re not necessarily without flaws.

You can check in your state whether districts are meeting all requirements for serving English language learners. The state department of education should have this information.

Also, if your state offers bilingual classes, is there a shortage of qualified teachers and–if so–how is the shortage being addressed? Some districts have been known to bring teachers from Puerto Rico, Mexico or Spain to teach students. Others offer pay stipends of several thousand dollars to entice applicants.