After hearing nearly three hours of often-heated public comment, the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees Wednesday unanimously approved a five-point language and culture education policy that includes a controversial plan to limit to three years the amount of time most students spend in bilingual education.
Armando Almendarez, the system’s head of language and cultural education, said the district developed the new policy because of studies showing that an increasing number of students are spending longer periods of time in bilingual education and posting below-average test scores on English-proficiency exams and tests such as La Prueba, which measures math and reading skills in Spanish.
“What concerns us most is the increasing number of students who are taking more than four years to transition out of the program,” Almendarez said. ” . . . (O)ur bilingual education program must be accountable. We need to monitor the quality of education that’s going on in the classroom.”
The policy is part of the district’s larger plan for education reform. The new plan, which also increases foreign language instruction options and sets strict guidelines for teacher certification and provides for more multicultural education programs, will apply to all bilingual education students, except those in special education programs.
At the meeting, several dozen people, including many school principals as well as representatives of Latino, Asian-American and Polish-American groups, spoke in favor of the new guidelines.
Sandra Yamate of the Japanese-American Service Committee said her organization strongly supported the policy, particularly the expansion of foreign language education and multicultural education.
Others, mostly people from the Latino community, strongly opposed the plan. “You want to take in your hands the future of our children without taking into account the concerns of the parents,” Jacobita Alonzo, a Lozano School parent, said in Spanish. “You have put this policy together without our input.”