Nearly one in four Illinois public school students is Latino. And their story is no longer confined to the Chicago Public Schools, where Hispanics are 43 percent of the enrollment. Most of the state’s Latino student population is now in the suburbs and rural areas.
A new report by the Latino Policy Forum lays out the challenges facing the population. Only one in three Latinos are enrolled in preschool. By the time they reach the third grade, these Latino students lag white students by 31 percentage points in reading scores. English Language Learners, 86 percent of whom speak Spanish, lag 48 points in reading by third grade.
“Such statistics are alarming, and these trends left unchecked will have devastating implications for Illinois: ensuring positive outcomes for their community is no longer simply a Latino issue,” the Shaping Our Future report says. “The well-being of Latinos–whose population has increased by nearly 500,000 over the last decade–is inextricably linked to the well-being of all of Illinois?”
So, what can be done?
The report identifies areas of interest and specific action items to be taken on:
Raising Academic and Instructional Standards:
The report suggests providing linguistically appropriate tests for students, such as increasing students’ time to take tests and allowing students to respond in Spanish. In addition, it advises that students complete college prep coursework and be provided programs such as dual-language instruction.
Preparing Teachers and Academic Leadership:
The Forum urges racial diversity among the teacher and administrator workforce. It urges that bilingual and mainstream teachers have proper training to deal with the diverse student population. In addition, it seeks to promote Latino students’ access to highly qualified teachers.
Addressing Funding and Facility Concerns.
The state’s heavy dependency on property taxes to fund schools has perpetuated continued unequal funding districts, with high-minority districts receiving about $1,595 less per student than low-minority districts. The Forum promotes advocating for increased funding and new strategies for distributing funds. In addition, it suggests building schools to be able to prevent overcrowding and increasing students’ access to technology.
Fostering Partners in Education.
The organization has planned the Acuerdo group geared at bringing Latino organizations and leaders together to advocate for the community’s needs and push initiatives forward.
Partners with schools, classrooms and school districts can include community-based organizations, foundations, businesses, faith-based organizations, health organizations and families. They can provide resources for issues such as funding support and providing support such as gang prevention programs.
The report also stresses the importance of family involvement initiatives, such as sharing with parents school information such as the benefits of preschool. Schools can also be educated themselves about how to go back to school and learn English. In addition, the report points out that suburbs often have fewer community organizations that provide services than Chicago, and are in need of more partners.
The Latino Policy Forum also hosted a discussion today along with leaders from the National Council of La Raza, Chicago Public Schools and Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the report’s release. WestEd’s Aida Walqui, an expert on ELLs, also spoke about the common core standards.