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An Oversimplification About Charter Schools and ELLs


"Charter Schools Fail Immigrants" is a headline that caught my eye on a column by Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj and Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco in the Huffington Post.

What I say about that message is, "Better not jump to that conclusion so fast."

I suspect that Sattin-Bajaj and Suarez-Orozco didn't write the headline for their column, so they aren't necessarily agreeing with this conclusion. The point they make in their column is that English-language learners are "severely underrepresented" in charter schools in New York state. While 7.4 percent of students in public schools statewide were classified as ELLs in the 2006-07 school year, only 2.1 percent of students in charter schools were ELLs. The article doesn't cite any evidence to show that charter schools do a worse job in educating ELLs than do regular public schools.

An advocacy group for ELLs in Massachusetts also recently found that ELLs were underrepresented in charter schools in that state. But in looking at test scores for those charter schools that did have a high proportion of ELLs, the group found that some charter schools did a better job of teaching ELLs and some charter schools did a worse job. You can read more about the group's analysis in an article I wrote recently for EdWeek, "Evidence is Limited on Charters' Effect on ELL Achievement."

The authors of the Huffington Post column fail to mention a national study of charter schools in 10 states that found that ELLs are doing somewhat better academically in charter schools than in regular public schools. I cite that study in the same EdWeek article about ELLs in Massachusetts charter schools.

Also, EdWeek will publish a story I wrote this week about charter schools that cater to Hispanic students run by the United Neighborhood Organization, or UNO, in Chicago. An analysis released this week by the Illinois Policy Institute and the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute found that both ELLs and Hispanics in the UNO charter schools and other charter schools in Chicago with high populations of those students did better on average on state academic tests than did ELLs and Hispanics in regular public schools.

So until we know more about how ELLs are faring in charter schools, it's an oversimplification to say "Charter Schools Fail Immigrants," and when we learn more, it may even be proven to be a false statement.


UNO is drill and kill school that focuses on testing versus learning. No innovation at UNO, just a sink and swim attitude that is really a throwback to the English Only philosophy and is not based on any qualitative research! It would be important for the author of this article and public to read the solid report called: A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement Final Report: Project 1.1 http://crede.berkeley.edu/research/crede/research/llaa/1.1_final.html

We know what works and dual language done right is the best for the ELL student in terms of maintaining and growing academically in their home language as well as a second language. It is funny that the Illinois Policy Institute believes in "economic liberty and government accountability". when Chicago has really no accountability nor transparency of their New Schools Department, which supposedly keeps an eye on the charter schools. UNO is about UNO. Juan Rangel who heads UNO is arrogant and doesn't believe in transparency of operation of government entities. UNO is a throwback to the English Only schools. Many in Illinois are scratching their heads on how UNO got over 120 million in two years from the state government when regular schools and classrooms barely have the basics! It seems that the author of the article has not done her homework in terms of critiquing the "research" of two suspect institutions that have no academic standing. Our students ARE capable of learning academic Spanish and English. Where learning two or more languages is highly valued, it is done.

It's great to hear that this author had the privilege to study and learn a second language. She clearly has an advantage over monolingual writers. Why then does she think that assimilation and English only instruction is to the benefit of Latino children as indicated in her recent article? I hate to think that learning a second language is a privilege only for the well-to-do. I invite the author to continue the conversation that I was fortunate to start prior to her recent publication. She asked me if I saw/knew any difference between the families of UNO students and families in my school. She also asked why UNO scores are showing progress. The answers are obvious to many readers. There is no visible difference between our families. They are Latinos living in the same neighborhood and dealing with the same struggles. The only difference is the service and information given to them about bilingual education. As for the scores, the last commentator said it best. I will only add that the ISAT is not an assessment designed for ELL students and does not reflect the way student learn and think. Ms. Zehr might have better luck obtaining evidence from UNO such as ACCESS test scores which might shed light on how ELL students fair in charter schools like UNO.

Charter schools are just a big scam to dismantle the public education system. Public schools can do similar things that charter schools claim that they do if there are more innovative principals in the public schools. The only way that I would support a charter school would be in a state with English-only laws, and the charter schools are the only ways to institute multilingual education.

This author clearly defines learning by a one-day, one-test metric. How disappointing that an asst. editor, purportedly expert in ELL issues, would adopt such a stance.
UNO is drill and skill and pushes assimilation only. Like many large-scale Chicago charters, they are real estate developers, not educators,who have found intricate way of financing their purchases through state bonds leveraged by federal grants. Of course, Chicago Public Schools paves the way -- Mayor Daley was advertised on UNO's website as UNO's fundraising chair.
This editor should talk about the realities of a city and its education/political sphere with which she is familiar. Chicago is not a town for the politically uninformed.

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