English Learners in Chicago Public Schools: An Exploration of the Influence of Pre-K and Early Grade Years

Research Rundown Issue: October '21
Publisher: UChicago Consortium on School Research
Date Published: September '21


Examining data from over 30,000 PreK-3 English Learner (EL) students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), researchers identified several factors that contribute to EL success. Specifically, the authors found:

  • Enrolling students in full-day early learning programs prior to age four vs. at age four was associated with stronger English language development and early literacy;
  • ELs who received Bilingual Education Services through third grade, as compared to EL students who didn’t receive the services because their families declined it, had higher English development, attendance, grades, and academic achievement; and
  • Attending higher-rated schools, based on CPS’ School Quality Rating Policy, was associated with higher math and reading proficiency and English proficiency, even after accounting for student and school differences.

The researchers provide a series of recommendations to leverage these findings. For policymakers, they recommend prioritizing ELs for access to prekindergarten programs, with a particular focus on ELs with lower incoming English skills and ELs with disabilities. For practitioners, they recommend using data from screener assessments to support ELs and then implementing research-based interventions that focus on reading and listening.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Since 2010, the K-12 student English Learner (EL) population in Minnesota has grown by 25%. Despite being one of the fastest-growing student populations in Minnesota, we are falling short in meeting the needs of EL students. Prior to COVID, Minnesota EL proficiency in reading was 12.5% and 16.8% in math. And we know that the pandemic exacerbated achievement gaps and had a negative impact on student learning. As districts continue to spend their federal stimulus dollars, it’s important that they place an emphasis on supporting EL students through research-based strategies and targeted Bilingual Education Services, and support families by making materials available in their home language.

Related, at the state level legislators must invest in early learning that prioritizes our most underserved and under-resourced students. Even though an estimated 35,000 low-income kids ages 0-5 are in need of quality programming, state legislators failed to act last session. Specifically, they did not provide new funding to early learning scholarships—a large disappointment given the intense need for services for our youngest learners and their families coming out of the pandemic.

Read the full report