Four of the five Mayoral Candidates Respond to Questionnaire Regarding Bi-lingual Education in CPS Schools— Mayor 1% Doesn’t Respond— Parent Mentors from Four Schools Discuss its Importance

Parent Mentors—people who work in schools to support students and teachers—in programs sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) on the Northwest Side of Chicago got four of the five mayoral candidates to respond to their questionnaire about bi-lingual education in CPS schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign, despite seven e-mails and three phone calls, chose not to respond.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) parent mentors after reviewing mayoral candidates' answers to questions about English Language Learners. Only Rahm Emanuel failed to answer the three questions. Substance photo by Kim Scipes.One hundred twenty-seven (127) Parent Mentors from Avondale-Logandale, Burbank, Darwin, Funston, Goethe, McAuliffe, Monroe, Mozart and Stowe Elementary Schools collectively generated and approved the questionnaire that was sent out in their name on January 21, 2015. (Parent Mentors get a small stipend from LSNA for two hours of work a day, but many volunteer the entire day in the classroom because the need is so great.) Each candidate was asked the same three questions, and LSNA asked the candidates to respond by February 2. Results were tabulated, and presented publicly on Friday, February 20 at the LSNA office, 2840 N. Milwaukee. The only media outlets that felt the press conference worthy of coverage were Channel 66 (Univision) and Substance.

As will be discussed after the candidates’ positions are reported (below), Parent Mentors feel quite strongly that Dual Language Programs are very important to their students. However, they make the point that these programs are important not only for Spanish-speakers, but they are important for English-only speakers as well: they argue that as the world people’s interact more and more, the future requires that EACH STUDENT speak at least two or more languages.

Each candidate’s replies are transcribed below by this reporter from their written responses, and are in order of each candidate’s last name:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel:


Alderman Bob Fioretti.

1) Do you believe that schools should support the academic development of students’ home languages as well as English acquisition?


2) Would you support expanding dual language programs to more neighborhood schools?


3) Please describe your vision for strengthening support for English Language Learners and their families.

Contrary to popular belief, the US does not have an official language. Languages from all over the globe are being spoken in Chicago everyday. Children are being raised in households where English is rarely spoken. Therefore, in order to have students thriving, we must provide academic support in both English and in their native language. Children at CPS speak well more than 100 languages, and right now, resources to make certain they have opportunities available to be on a level playing field with those that are English-only are scarce. ESL [English as a Second Language-KS] students need better resources to not only learn the English language but to comprehend the rest of their classes and assignments.

CPS needs more bilingual teachers and staff who are patient, attentive and supportive. Schools must offer ESL workshops for parents who are unable to fully assist their children, morning/after school tutoring sessions for ESL students whose parents [words appear to be missing] and more resources/funding for teachers. As mayor, I would work with CPS to provide more funding and other resources available to accomplish these goals.

Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia:

1) Do you believe that schools should support the academic development of students’ home languages as well as English acquisition?


I believe it is necessary to change course dramatically from the so-called “reform” education agenda offered by Mayor Emanuel and instead take a new, holistic approach to our city’s schools. A sound public education system is the foundation of a functioning democracy and a healthy economy—just as access to quality public grade school and high school education is a basic right for all in our city.

My approach is grounded in giving basic democratic control over the school system back to the public through an elected school board; reducing to the barest legal minimum the plethora of high-stakes standardized tests by which we falsely judge schools, students and teachers; placing a moratorium on further charter schools; expanding public education to include pre-kindergarten and even earlier; and reducing class size, which is one of the largest in the state. We need to stop pretending that standardized tests measure intelligence, learning or real world capabilities. They measure little more than the ability to take standardized tests, a skill that is rarely needed in the workplace.

We must further commit to ensuring that every student in our system has access to good textbooks, libraries, recreational facilities and course offerings in languages, literature and the arts.

As Mayor, I am committed to ensuring that critical bilingual and dual-language programs will be available to all students that need and desire them. It is well documented that fluency in a second or even third language, starting at an early age, helps students academically across the board, helping them immensely in their capacity to become truly college and career ready. These programs are also essential in our increasingly global economy, as recognized by the recently established Illinois State Seal of Biliteracy.

2) Would you support expanding dual language programs to more neighborhood schools?

Yes. Please see my response to question 1, above.

3) Please describe your vision for strengthening support for English Language Learners and their families.

As I have proposed in my platform to create a city that is inclusive for all, language access will be a priority for my administration. There is a significant segment of the population in Chicago that would benefit from improved language support for city services. The City of Chicago currently has no clear policy, leaving many residents without access to needed information on how to navigate city services or how to participate in its governance. This is also true for parents who are non-English speakers in their relationship to their children’s education. That is why I will pay special close attention to how children and parents who are non-English speakers are treated by the Chicago Public Schools.

Every parent should have a way of communicating with their children’s educators and those who make decisions about their children’s future. In addition to having a democratically-elected school board, school board meetings should be accessible to non-English speakers, with readily available interpreters provided by the city. In addition, schools should have a consistent system for having interpretation for non-English speaking parents, which does not rely informally on a language teacher, or a teacher who happens to be bilingual.

Lastly, I strongly believe that non-English speaking students should be encouraged to learn English and become multilingual. There is a need for expanding programs that promote bilingual education and Biliteracy.

William “Dock” Walls [NOTE: Mr. Walls responded in both English and Spanish, the only candidate to do so. His typewriter had Spanish punctuation, which this reporter’s does not: please excuse this reporter’s inability to apply proper Spanish punctuation. Questions in Spanish were written by LSNA. Also, being an English-only speaker, this reporter is dependent on Mr. Walls’ Spanish.]

1) Do you believe that schools should support the academic development of students’ home languages as well as English acquisition?


? Cree Ud. Que las escuelas deberian de apoyar el desarrollo academico del idioma materno de los estudiantes de la misma manera como el idioma ingeles?


2) Would you support expanding dual language programs to more neighborhood schools?


? Ud. apoyaria expandir el programa del lenguaje dual a mas escuelas del vecindario?


3) Please describe your vision for strengthening support for English Language Learners and their families.

ELLs [English Language Learners-KS] typically exhibit achievement deficiencies in essential academic areas, such as reading and math. This achievement gap is usually accompanied by poor socioeconomic status. To alleviate these negatives, we must engage ELLs on a constant and ongoing basis.

It is not enough to simply provide ELL students special attention and support during the school day. We must extend that support to include additional year round learning programs, that include the parents and families of ELL students.

Por favor describa su vision para fortalecer el apoyo para los estudiantes que estan aprendiendo ingles y para sus familas.

ELL tipicamente presentan deficiencias de rendimiento en las areas academicas esenciales, coma la lectura y las matematicas. Esta brecha en el rendimiento suele ir acompanado de una mala situacion socioeconomica. Para aliviar estos aspectos negativos, debemos estar en contacto los estudiantes ELL de forma constante y permanente.

No es suficiente simplemente proporcionar a los estudiantes ELL especial atencion y apoyo durante el dia escolar. Debemos extender ese apoyo para induir programas de aprendizaje durante todo el ano adicional, que incluyen a los padres y las familias de los estudiantes que estan aprendiendo ingles.

Dr. Willie Wilson

1) Do you believe that schools should support the academic development of students’ home languages as well as English acquisition?

I believe we need to have positive educational environments for all students. We must acknowledge the pressures put on our teachers with increased testing, standardized curriculum and larger class sizes. I believe we should have a curriculum that meets the needs of the majority of the students in the classroom. I am not opposed to enhancing or assisting with language proficiency other than English, but it should not be part of the mainstream agenda.

2) Would you support expanding dual language programs to more neighborhood schools?

Dual language programs are clearly an asset and provide our students with an opportunity to learn a second language. However, supporting expansion of the program without full consideration of the cost implications on the budget is problematic. I certainly recognize the value of the program and would consider its expansion.

3) Please describe your vision for strengthening support for English Language Learners and their families.

The City of Chicago has programs in place to support English Language learners, including a tuition free ESL program at the City Colleges of Chicago. We should promote these programs to the communities most in need. I will continue to support programs such as the ESL program at City Colleges and others that are available.

Prior to receiving a copy of the candidates’ responses to their questionnaire, this reporter sat in on a Parent Mentor Round-table, which discussed what Dual Language programs mean to them. (Dual Language programs teach curriculum in both Spanish and English: the majority of instruction is in Spanish for the first few years—it varies by program—but usually by 6th or 7th grade, instruction is about 50-50, with all students generally being fluent in both languages.)

The discussion was in Spanish, but because of Bridget Murphy’s excellent translation skills, I was able to participate. This involved a number of Parent Mentors from four local elementary schools: Darwin, Funston, Mozart, and Stowe elementaries, and all had children in CPS schools; some who were currently in pre-Kindergarten and some who had graduated from a CPS high school. All were women. Some had recently arrived in Chicago, but most had been here for years. These Parent Mentors work in the classrooms every day, and thus are able to support both students and teachers.

The Parent Mentors shared their own experiences in these elementary schools. (I decided it was more important to get the ideas rather than who spoke them specifically, but these were ideas that came out of interactions within the group.) They supported a number of common points:

• It is unfair for a student to speak only one language. They started out talking about the problem for Spanish speakers in their school and how, as they learned English, they lost their Spanish; but as the conversation went on, they also agreed that it was unfair for English-speakers to only speak one language as well: “All students need Spanish as well as English for the future, for better opportunities.”

• One woman said she thought it was a “moment of change” for CPS. She says that CPS doesn’t value home languages of students, and argues that it is important for children to learn English, while keeping their home language and culture.

• Spanish should be in all schools, and available for all students, not just for Latinos who are trying to transition to English.

• They told me that most schools provide a “transitional” program that goes only to third grade, and, after that, all instruction is in English. What happens to those who don’t “get” English by third grade, or what about those who arrive who are in higher grades? Nothing.

• Basically, these transitional programs are English as a Second Language (ESL) program. They are intended to get the student fluent in English, regardless of cost to home language, and often, that cost is extensive.

• With all the instruction in English, especially after third grade, how can the parents—if they are only Spanish speakers—help with homework? [What many may not know is that the Spanish-speaking community in Chicago is so big that people can do well within their communities even when they don’t speak English.]

• The Parent Mentors strongly supported students learning at least two languages, and a number thought they should learn more.

• They thought the Parent Mentor project was important, especially in classrooms with English Language Learners: how can a teacher, with 27 students, help students when they have children at a number of different levels of comprehension and understanding?

• They pointed out the unfairness of standardized testing in general, but especially for those just learning English.

• Right now, many though the current “transitional” program was not working: many students were ending up no longer being good in Spanish and not being good in English: “Dual language would be better.”

• The Parent Mentors understood it was important to work with each Principal, as a team. In some schools, “the principal agrees with us; we’re hopeful.”

• They want to build support for Dual Language programs. “We must talk with other parents, the teachers, and the union to advance this idea.” Also, they recognized that they needed to work with the LSCs (Local School Councils) as well. “This is like ‘Civil Rights’: we’re going to have to organize to get what we want, for all children.” [When someone brought up the movie “Selma” and suggested they should watch it together and discuss, they got animated. They were told not to just focus on Dr. King, as important as he was, but on what the “ordinary people” did, and someone else said “Yeah, it’s like ordinary people doing impossible things!”

• These women were looking at the larger picture: “It was sad that there was no response to our questionnaire from the mayor; we want him to respond; it’s very important.” They were thinking long-term, about the issues and formalizing thoughts for their community. “There is a big need in our schools.” But someone else pointed out that, “This is not just about today, but about the future and how our kids can get better jobs in 15-20 years.”

• They pointed that Latinos are a larger “minority” than African Americans today, but that they don’t get respect regarding their language and cultures.

• They also pointed out that high school is too late to learn languages and to be good at them. Students need to start early; it’s a long-term process.

• We need a first class education so we can compete with other countries.

• Learning other languages will help kids have success everywhere.

• They also are aware that some English-only speaking families might be “scared” of Dual Language programs: “There’s no need to be scared. We only want these programs for those who want to learn other programs.

• Someone pointed out that benefits of learning more than one language are “scientifically proven.” She reported that studies have shown that students who speak at least two languages, “their brains work at a higher level.”

• And then someone pointed out that “you don’t need a grant” to get a Dual Language program started in one’s school. “Work with the principal and use the school funds already there,” she said.

We ended the session by talking about the situation in the four schools represented at the Roundtable:

Funston Elementary: pre-K to 8th grade

They have a transitional program until third grade. Apparently, they are getting more students from Mexico and Puerto Rico, whose English is non-existent or very limited: “They are very confused in English.” Instruction from fourth grade on is only in English.

Mozart Elementary: was pre-K to 6th, now to 8th grade

In third grade, all English Language Learners have to take a test to see if they are ready to switch to instruction in English. There’s some bilingual teaching, but 7th and 8th grades are English only. The woman who coordinates the Parent Mentor program at Mozart, however, reports that many children are struggling with words, and this “hurts their homework.” She also specifically stated that for students in the transitional program, many not only weren’t getting their English, but were losing their Spanish as well.

Stowe Elementary: pre-K to 8th grade

Stowe only has a transitional program until third grade. “We need a Dual Language program because of the students’ future!”

The one bright spot was Darwin Elementary. Darwin, a pre-K to 8th grade school is a Dual Language program throughout. In pre-K, instruction is about 80% in Spanish, 20% English. By third grade, it goes to 60/40, and by fifth grade, it is 50/50. They also have classes specifically in English, and Spanish is offered weekly, as well. “We have students from countries like India, as well as African Americans and whites, too. They are all doing well in Dual Language, and they are all working successfully in both English and Spanish!”

[Kim Scipes, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, IN, and lives in Logan Square. He is the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union. He has two children in CPS schools, and they attended the old Inter American Magnet School—with its Dual Language/social justice program—before CPS allowed the program to be destroyed. He wants to thank Bridget Murphy again for her translation work, and Lety Barrera and Deborah McCoy for making sure he knew about the meeting and helping him understand the proceedings.]


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