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State of Latino Education in Chicago Public Schools: A Conversation with CEO Pedro Martinez

By Brian Herrera & Aylainah Garibay

Across the nation, urban school districts with racially diverse student bodies like Chicago’s are working to advance educational equity. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has implemented several innovative programs and made investments designed to boost the achievement of all students. On March 19, 2024 at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez addressed the Council of Multilingual Parents, a volunteer group of immigrant and refugee parents, and the Latino Policy Forum to highlight the astounding progress of the Latino and English Learner students, who account for 46.9% of students in CPS.

CEO Martinez shared details about strategies and investments the district is currently implementing to improve student performance. CPS has increased academic support for students designed to accelerate learning, as well as extended learning time, and emotional behavioral and health support. The results of these efforts and investments, according to data shared at the event, have paid off in dividends, and at the forefront of these positive outcomes have been Latino and English Learner students.

In its “Education Recovery Score Card” the Council of Great City Schools ranked Chicago Public Schools as third in the nation for academic gains in reading and math between 2022 and 2023. Additionally, Latino students within CPS ranked second in the nation for academic progress in the same year. He wanted the public to know that Latino students are leading the academic gains in CPS.

Beginning with early literacy results in kindergarten through second grade, Latinos increased seven-fold faster than the overall student population. CPS offers bilingual education with native language instruction across the board and has an expanding network of schools implementing dual language education. Young students are assessed in Spanish in order to capture their full range of ability. In mathematics, young Latinos started out with fewer students meeting grade level standards (2%) which increased more than ten-fold to 28% by the end of one school year.

Elementary students are experiencing the largest gains since 2016 in both math and reading post pandemic. CPS has also heavily invested in offering algebra to the middle grades. Starting students with early algebra leads to more postsecondary success. In 2020-21, approximately 20% of all students did not have access to algebra during their middle school years, today that percentage has dramatically dropped to 1.5%. This strategy bodes well for the future success of the students in the school district.

CEO Martinez also reported on high school student success. Latino Freshman-On-Track rates are at 87.3% meaning that students are attending school and passing their core academic classes on par with their peers. Latinos taking college credit bearing courses such as dual credit is the highest percentage of all demographic groups at 42% earning 15 or more college credits while still enrolled in high school.

Four- year high school graduation rates amongst Latinos in 2023 were higher than the overall district average at 85%. As part of the high school graduation process, high school students must fill out a plan which indicates whether they will go on to post-secondary education or enter the work force. More than 98% of Latino high school seniors went on to submit post-secondary plans to their academic counselors. Latinos enrolled in postsecondary education at a rate of 66.4% which is impressive and showcases the success of the “Learn, Plan, Succeed” initiative.

As CEO Martinez shared the great news about Latino student performance, he mentioned that that the district has worked diligently on several core enhancements to education. The first goal was to accelerate learning for all students by implementing several initiatives including: a high-quality curriculum, expanded professional development offerings for teachers, and tiered interventions for students who need extra support. The district also employs over 600 tutors in 200 schools.

Offering extended day learning was also a key investment. More students participated in summer school or programs designed by their local teachers for out of school support. One third of all CPS students have participated in these programs which may account for the rapid academic gains.

Finally, CEO Martinez spoke of the ways in which CPS was meeting the social emotional needs of their diverse student population. Additional counselors were hired to support students, social emotional resources were purchased, and the district coordinated with mental health providers to increase access to services. The CEO talked a lot about collaboration with agencies, city providers, and post -secondary institutions as part of the success story. Although Latino students face many challenges, their efforts and results are to be celebrated. While many educators today talk about the goal of equity in education, Chicago Public Schools stands out as a national leader in truly making that vision a reality.

Posted In: Education, Parent Engagement