While our unit on Chicago thus far has focused on historical periods of immigration to Chicago, beginning in the nineteenth century and ending with the second phase of the Southern Diaspora that culminated in the 1970’s, we haven’t touched on the issue of immigration today. Cronin focused on the influx of immigrants in the nineteenth century who flocked to the prosperous, expanding city, but people continue to immigrate to Chicago today in the 21st century.
A New York Times article published on February 9, 2012 entitled “Suburban Chicago Schools Lag Behind as Bilingual Needs Grow” focuses on the Latino immigrant population of Chicago. The state of Illinois mandates public schools to provide bilingual programs, but a recent report reveals that many schools have failed to adequately provide for their bilingual students. Many of the students learning English (roughly 80% speak Spanish as their native language) struggle academically.
Since 2005, 25% of suburban school districts doubled their number of English-learning students. Plainfield School District tripled its size of English-learning students. In examining the entire state of Chicago, the number of English-learning speakers increased 10% from 2009 to 2011, resulting in a total population of 182,600. White eighth graders scored 17 to 23 percentage points higher than Latino eighth graders on the same reading achievement test. School districts have struggled to find bilingual teachers to helm its dual-language program where students are taught in both their native language and English to ensure they learn fundamental concepts before beginning to improve their English skills.
In an American society where literacy is fundamental, many of these immigrant students are struggling to learn basic subjects in school because of the language barrier. The Latino struggle echoes the many black southern migrants a century before who came to Chicago unable to read or write. We touched on upward mobility in our last unit, and the idea of immigrants coming to America for a better life, evidenced in one of the blog posts on students crossing the border from Mexico for an American education. But how will these Chicago students succeed if the public schools are failing to teach them the English needed to rise up and make something of themselves?