The 21st century job market demands specialized knowledge, a variety of skills, and advanced degrees. All children should have access to high quality education that prepares them to be college and career ready, civically engaged, and economically productive members of society. Especially in a state as diverse as Illinois, improving educational achievement is everyone’s responsibility and is an imperative for the state. Given the demographic growth, resources and investments have not kept pace. A targeted and deliberate approach to improving the future of Latinos and English Learners (ELs) ensures a bright and prosperous future for Illinois.
Latino children—99 percent of whom are US-born or naturalized citizens—represent nearly one in four students in Illinois public schools. In Chicago Public Schools, Latinos make up its largest student cohort at 46 percent. Even suburban Chicago and downstate Illinois classrooms are increasingly diverse as a majority of Latinos—6 in 10—now live outside of Chicago.
All of the projected growth in the student population is coming from children of immigrants. The state’s English Learner population accounts for nearly 10 percent of the public school population and 16 percent of Chicago Public Schools students. More than 80 percent of English Learners are Spanish-speaking and Spanish is spoken in about four-of-five Latino homes. In order to maximize the human potential of this future workforce, Illinois must equitably allocate resources to support its youth.
Latinos and English Learners bring well-documented linguistic assets and soft skills to their classrooms, yet because of an under resourced system, students face barriers to accessing high quality, culturally and linguistically responsive education. It’s time to remodel the system to leverage these skills and build on the rich diversity of all students. The urgency of this action is evident in statistics that show only 81 percent of Latino youth graduate from high school in four years and 18 percent obtain an associate’s degree or higher.
The Latino Policy Forum has drafted a blueprint to advocate for all Latinos and English Learners to graduate high school and be college and career ready, however it concentrates efforts in the birth-to-3rd grade span. The education agenda covers three areas:
- Family and Community Capacity Building
- Equitable Access and Resource Distribution
- Diverse Educator Preparation