Charter School Options For Latinos Gain Attention Due To Chicago Teachers' Strike

Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Tuesday, Sept.
Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, on the second day of a strike in the nation's third-largest school district as negotiations by the two sides failed to reach an agreement Monday in a bitter contract dispute over evaluations and job security. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

With Chicago public school teachers on strike, Latino families may be the hardest hit, as outside of the public school space, many Latino families traditionally haven’t had many other options for elementary and secondary education.

According to the Brookings Institute, children of lower-income families have limited avenues to turn to when public schools shut down.

"This is pretty well documented," Beth Akers, fellow in the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy told The Huffington Post. "When we look at research it is because they don’t have the support at home. Students coming from more affluent families have educational facilities brought home or are read to at home. Students from poor families are not exposed to external academic assistance during times like this."

With the strike having a adverse affects on those students who are already the most disadvantaged, parents are now questioning what they can do to get their children off the streets and back into school. Akers believes having options in public schools would help these students.

"Unfortunately they don't have a lot of options right now," Akers said to The Huffington Post. "That's the issue with k-12 education right now and why we believe in the notion of introducing choice in this market. Right now it's sort of a monopoly that these teachers are all part of the union and students don’t have the option of selecting into another school."

Though applications for charter schools are increasing, the trend there too has been disproportionate to Latino families.

"I think part of the problem is charters across the country have not been able to attract a lot of Hispanic students and English language learners,” Juan Rangel, the chief executive officer of the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), a network of charter schools in Illinois, told The Huffington Post.

Part of the reason for this is simply cost.

"It becomes expensive for charters to open up in Hispanic neighborhoods where they don’t have extra buildings," Rangel said, "so we're trying to figure out how to open schools there. We have built or restored older buildings in these neighborhoods but it comes at a cost. I think there is a demand and we have gone to a waiting list for students who would love to get in our schools and we're not building fast enough."

According to The Center for American Progress' study on "Next Generation Charter Schools," charter schools could help close the gap Latinos and other minorities face when it comes to education if they continue focusing on these disadvantaged students.

"Latino students continue to lag behind their non-Latino counterparts in most educational indicators of success despite a rooted history and growing presence in the United States. The underperformance of Latino students and their staggering dropout rates have galvanized the civil rights community to take action and rally support behind comprehensive and transformative school initiatives. The prolific growth of charter schools in the Latino community is one outcome of this reformative action."

However, according to this same study, charter schools are still too new to determine whether they have the same bandwidth to educate as public schools. Charter schools' English Language Learners programs were deemed not as rigorous as public school programs in the study, causing gaps in English understanding among minorities, which tend to be the largest demographic in charter schools. And 'testing' these schools on already marginalized student populations, might be more detrimental in the long run.

Though Rangel agrees that charters still have a ways to go, he believes they have started to make a difference in Hispanic populations, at least in Illinois.

Today UNO serves over 50 percent of the Hispanics in the state's charter school community. Nearly 30 percent are English Language Learners and about 93 percent come from families which are at or below the poverty line.



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