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The Need for and Challenge of Bringing More Dual-Language Teachers into Classrooms

The U.S. Hispanic population accounts for 56 percent of the country’s population growth since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. What this means for schools is that roughly five million or one out of every 10 school children are classified as English language learners (ELLs).

Many of these students are immigrants or first-generation from Spanish-speaking countries and while they might know some English, it may not be the primary language spoken at home. This elevates the potential for them to easily fall behind in school. Because of this, the need for bilingual or dual-language teachers continues to rise in many parts of the country.

While states with a history of having large Hispanic populations such as Texas, California, and Florida have seen their Hispanic populations continue to grow, states in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest have also seen an incredible boom in the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Both Washington and Oregon are in the top 10 states that have the highest ELL student density, according to a 2015 study by the Migration Policy Institute.

Districts have looked to hiring short-term teachers from Mexico and Spain to fill the need, though there’s a push towards incubating bilingual educators stateside. “We have a staffing shortage,” Amaya Garcia, who has researched the need for more dual-language teachers in Washington and Oregon, was told by a district employee. “We’ve done trips to Puerto Rico, we have brought in visiting international teachers, but that’s still not meeting the need that we have. So we decided that we need to grow them ourselves.”

The Portland School District teamed with Portland State University in 2016 to foster its own educator talent pool, the PPS & PSU Dual Language Teacher Partnership. The university already had its own bilingual teaching pathway in place and now helps screen applicants for 28 fellowship slots in the city’s public schools. Those who are selected must pass a language fluency exam, gain admission to one of the school's education programs, and hold a bachelor's degree. Those who are accepted take on roles as either substitutes or paraprofessionals while completing their graduate studies.

Oklahoma City is working to address its own dual-language teacher shortage through the Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Project. Currently, the program has 34 bilingual paraprofessionals who are studying to become certified teachers and committed to staying in the school district.

The program launched in January of last year, with the goal of providing financial support to working bilingual paraprofessionals in the district while they study to become certified teachers. Upon completion of all requirements, there is an understanding that they will be hired by the school district as bilingual teachers and placed in a classroom of their own. In order to be accepted into the program, applicants must agree to work a minimum of three years for the district upon completion of certification. Oklahoma City Public School District currently has a student population that is 52 percent Hispanic.

Oddly enough, should the Trump administration carry through with putting an end to DACA, the country’s need for more bilingual teachers could become even greater with potentially 20,000 teachers being forced to leave the country.

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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