Chicago: English as a Second Language: Adult English courses declining, study says
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Wed May 13 13:54:08 UTC 2009
English as a Second Language: Adult English courses declining, study says
Steady drop in funding forces cutbacks
By Antonio Olivo
May 12, 2009
After 20 years of sporadic English classes, Esperanza Marrufo still
stumbles over the language, exasperated when unable to find the right
word. "Part of my problem is ... I can't express myself!" said
Marrufo, 43, in her native Spanish. "I want to keep practicing so I
can enter fully into American society." Though that desire is shared
by thousands of immigrants -- even as critics often chastise them for
not integrating quickly enough -- opportunities to learn English are
harder to come by in Illinois, according to a study released Monday.
>>From 2002 to 2008, the number of English as a Second Language slots
funded by the state dropped by 20 percent to 69,700, according to the
report by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
In Chicago, where wait-lists are long for ESL classes in the city's
seven community colleges, the number of enrolled students dropped
during the same period by nearly half to 19,300, the study showed. The
findings tap into long-standing concerns over integrating
non-English-speaking immigrants, many of whom gravitate to ethnic
enclaves and remain in unskilled jobs because of their lack of
English. Of the state's nearly 1.8 million foreign-born residents,
about 575,000 adults cannot speak English well or at all, according to
2007 census figures.
"Our immigrant population is growing," said Fred Tsao, policy director
for the immigrant coalition. "If we're going to be relying
increasingly on the immigrant workforce, we need to make sure those
workers have the English skills to not only do their jobs, but advance
in their jobs so they can contribute even more to the economy."
Most adult ESL courses in the state are funded through the Illinois
Community College Board, which supports 80 ESL programs in community
colleges and neighborhood non-profits, board officials said.
Funding for adult education, most of which is ESL instruction, has
dropped steadily in recent years to $54.9 million in 2008, because of
shifting state budget priorities and a drop in federal resources
spurred by the troubled economy, the study shows.
Karen Hunter Thompson, the board's vice president, predicted more ESL
classes will be cut this year.
"We've had some major hits and we're going to lose $1.5 million more
in adult education this year," said Thompson, adding that the board
recently formed a Latino Advisory Committee to study the barriers
faced by that population. "We realize that, if you look at the
population, we're not keeping up fiscally with the demand. It's a
The demand for classes can be seen in such community organizations as
the Indo-American Center in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood,
where roughly 200 immigrants from India, Pakistan, the Middle East and
Ethiopia meet every week to learn English.
Such a diverse population, entering with a jumble of native languages,
is hard to teach with only a handful of instructors, said Mimosa Shah,
the center's literacy coordinator.
"We do a lot of one-on-one sessions, where we play games or manipulate
pictures, all of it in English," Shah said. "It's a very drastic
immersion, but it's also necessary for the students to learn survival
Among the study's recommendations is to channel more government
funding to community organizations. Those groups have proven to be
more convenient than community colleges for immigrants working long
hours and tending to children.
Several non-profits include career training with their advanced English courses.
Thompson said pending changes in federal funding formulas may allow
the state board to pour more funds into such programs, but not at the
expense of community colleges.
Marrufo, a native of Mexico, attends a class taught by a Chicago Lawn
non-profit in partnership with Malcolm X Community College.
Though she still struggles, her English has improved markedly, she said.
Eager to practice, Marrufo offered to share in English her plans to
become a teacher.
"I need my city certificate because I want to take ... como se
dice?... una educacion ... advanced education for becoming teachers,"
Upon finishing, Marrufo wondered: "Did you understand me?"
aolivo at tribune.com
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