To boost achievement, schools step up bilingual ed staffing

To boost achievement, schools step up bilingual ed staffing

(Calif.) In light of the overwhelming demand for bilingual educators, lawmakers and districts across California have using bonuses, subsidized training and other incentives to improve teacher recruitment to staff classrooms with high numbers of English-learners.

The clamor for bilingual teachers began once voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58 in 2016, ending a nearly 20-year mandate that students who come to school speaking other languages receive instruction in English-only–a method research has since shown is ineffective in catching students up and helping reach language proficiency.

Providing the sort of bilingual instruction that can lead to English proficiency can only be realized if schools have the necessary number of qualified and well-prepared teachers heading up classrooms, which experts note is still not the case.

“Research shows that English Learners in well-implemented bilingual programs outperform those in English immersion programs in every subject by middle or high school and are more likely to achieve at or above grade level,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, a research and policy associate at the Learning Policy Institute. “However, successful program models require well-prepared teachers, and teacher shortages can undermine the programs' effectiveness.”

Districts throughout the state have made efforts to incentivize bilingual teachers to apply to their schools. Natomas Unified School District officials are now offering a $5,000 bonus to recruit bilingual teachers, and are offering to cover most credential program costs for current college students or working professionals interested in a second career who are willing to teach in the district for at least three years.

Last year, Bakersfield City School District approved a contract that, among other things, included a multi-year pay increase for all teachers, as well as a $1,500 annual bonus to those holding credentials to teach in multiple languages.

Meanwhile, districts including Fresno Unified, Los Angeles Unified and Santa Ana Unified are working to train bilingual teachers who have been in English-only classrooms, or who are conversationally fluent in another language, but are new to high-level academic language. Others, such as Kern High School District, are looking to recruit educators from nearby states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

After almost two decades of English-only instruction, however, many districts are ill prepared to begin offering dual-emersion and other bilingual coursework right away–even as the number of English learners has increased.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, only 30 teacher preparation institutions currently offer bilingual authorization training programs, and fewer than 700 teachers authorized in 2015–16.

State officials have also made efforts to help schools address the issue. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2016, for instance, that requires the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to authorize incoming instructors from out-of-state to teach English language learners if they have an equivalent credential or permit to do so in another state.

And beginning this year and lasting through June 30, 2020, eight districts and county offices will receive $625,000 from the California Department of Education through a competitive grant program called the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development Program meant to help boost the number of teachers with a bilingual authorization, and help those already authorized return to teaching in a bilingual or multilingual setting.

Yet another statewide effort, the California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program, is meant to address shortages of math, science, special education, and bilingual teachers. The legislature has approved a total of $45 million for this program since 2016 to provide local education agencies $4,000 for each participant per year for up to 5 years.

The program allows LEAs to cover the costs of tuition and fees for classified school employees to complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching credential in a high-needs subject. So far, the program has funded 2,250 participant slots, Carver-Thomas said.

She noted that such programs will take some time to produce teachers who are ready to enter classrooms, as participants complete their training, but that ensuring candidates are well-prepared is worth the wait, because once English learners are able to reach proficiency, their long-term outcomes exceed those of their monolingual peers.

Studies continue to show that bilingual students often experience cognitive, social and economic advantages over their peers–they tend to have better focus, memory, and problem-solving skills; a better sense of self; better relationships with their parents; and are more likely to graduate high school and go to college.

“These important investments ensure that the teachers who enter classrooms will be prepared for the challenges of teaching once they do,” Carver-Thomas said. “It’s critical, not just that more teachers enter the profession, but that teachers enter bilingual classrooms well-prepared.”