School officials say it’ll make the English Second Language curriculum more flexible, but critics say the most vulnerable students will be shortchanged.

By Kim Bellware

(Photo: Christopher Connell/Flickr)

(Photo: Christopher Connell/Flickr)

Big changes are in store for the Adult Education program at the City Colleges of Chicago system, the largest of its kind in the state, which enrolled nearly 25,000 students last year. The program offers free English Second Language and high school equivalency courses in addition to vocational training for paying students.

But starting in fall 2019, school officials say that ESL courses will be standardized to 96 hours per course—for some, that means cutting more than half their hours—which will result in an overall 3 percent reduction in instructional time. They will also start offering a hybrid in-person/online ESL course. The proposal, which included other less-contentious changes, was presented at the July 11 CCC Board of Trustees meeting.

School officials say the ESL changes will make for a better, more flexible and relevant curriculum for its students, many of whom are working full- or part-time while also raising families.

By the Way…

This comes a year after CCC was placed on probation by the state’s community college board for not meeting performance standards. Last fall, 42 percent of the school system’s Adult Education students didn’t make it to the halfway point in their courses, according to an analysis shared at the July 11 meeting, obtained by Documenters. Also shared during the meeting was a 2016 phone survey in which students cited “a lack of job flexibility” as the main reason they stopped attending or didn’t re-enroll.

What Critics Say

Some CCC teachers, whose instructional time per course will decrease under the new changes, question the school’s motives. They claim the administration is leaving less-privileged students behind in a quest to improve performance scores and cut budgets.

AFSCME 3506, a union representing CCC instructors, expects that some Adult Education students will drop out because they can’t keep pace, according to George Roumbanis, president of the union.

“If you cherry-pick your students, you’re going to get better test results,” said Roumbanis, who has taught Adult Education classes at Daley College for two decades.

Several ESL instructors who spoke at the July meeting said around 200 hours per class was ideal—more than twice the proposed 96-hour cap.

Jose Pavilla, 25, has been taking ESL classes at CCC since about 2012 and is now at Level 7, the most advanced. He remembers he used to take 16 hours of class a week for 16 weeks. Now his classes will be 12 hours a week for only eight weeks. He’s also skeptical that his classmates will have access to computers needed for the hybrid online/in-person course.

"It’s not going to be enough,” said Pavila, who earned his GED in 2017 while working nights at a restaurant and raising a family. "We cannot learn English as fast as they think."

Why It Matters

CCC serves the most diverse student population in the city. Its student profile is approximately 7 percent Asian, 36 percent Black, 38 percent Hispanic and 16 percent white. By contrast, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the city’s most diverse four-year public school, is 22 percent Asian, 8 percent Black, 28 percent Hispanic and 34 percent white. ESL courses make up more than 40 percent of CCC’s Adult Education program enrollment.

Roumbanis said the decreased instruction time for ESL students in particular is a “clear deviation from [CCC’s] goal,” serving immigrant residents and other students from a variety of backgrounds who face socioeconomic roadblocks to education and career development. 

What You Can Do

  • Attend the next CCC Board of Trustees meeting.

  • Read reports on CCC outcomes or contact ICCB with complaints or concerns. City Colleges are accountable to ICCB and U.S. Department of Education. ICCB in particular makes sure CCC’s curriculum aligns with national standards and checks to ensure students are meeting established academic standards. The Office of the Inspector General for the City Colleges of Chicago led by John Gasiorowski also monitors CCC, but rather than evaluating education issues, the offices investigates regarding waste, fraud and misconduct by officials at all levels of the system.

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