Dual-language immersion push reveals California teacher shortage

New energy fueling dual-language immersion in California schools has exposed a bilingual teacher shortage of qualified educators. 

The state has set a high bar for itself. The Department of Education’s Global California 2030 initiative calls for schools to have half of all K-12 students on track for proficiency in two languages by the end of the next decade. The plan also calls for doubling the number of bilingual teachers, and a fourfold increase in non-English-language immersion programs.

Yet the number of teachers with bilingual certifications decreased from about 1,500 annually in the 1990s to around 700 in 2015-16, according to a report by Californians Together, an organization that advocates for English language learners. A little over half of the state’s districts report having a shortage. Politics deserves a share of the blame for the bilingual teacher shortage. In 1998, state voters passed Proposition 227, which eliminated most bilingual programs. Though voters repealed the law in 2016, many teachers across the state had let their bilingual certifications lapse, says Dan Miller, assistant superintendent for education services at Desert Sands USD (28,000 students), near Palm Springs.

The district—which had about 350 graduates receive the state’s seal of biliteracy in 2018—plans to seek grant funds to send teachers back to college to get certifications in bilingual instruction. It is also launching a dual-language immersion kindergarten program in fall 2019, Miller says.

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“One challenge is helping parents understand that students may underperform in the first two or three years in dual-immersion,” he says. “But by fourth grade, they’ll be outperforming their peers.”

$5 million for recertification

The Californians Together report identified about 7,000 teachers who could teach bilingual classes if they renewed their certifications with additional professional development, says Magaly Lavadenz, the organization’s president and a professor in the college of education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The state has provided $5 million in grants to eight programs that will allow bilingual teachers across California to return to dual-language classrooms. Participating teachers could be recertified within a year to 18 months, Lavadenz says.

“It’s a heavy lift—if they’ve been out of bilingual classes, they need to be updated in the new pedagogy,” she says. “There are new ways to use materials and develop curriculum.”

The grants also provide funding for bilingual paraprofessionals who want to earn dual-language teaching certifications.

Demystifying teachers

The Californians Together report also found that in 2017, only 30 of California’s 80 teacher preparation institutions offered bilingual certification. California State University, Fresno has just received a five-year, $3.75 million federal grant to steer Hispanic high school students toward the teaching profession. Students in the program, which begins in fall 2019, will take field trips to dual-language immersion classrooms. This will give them hands-on experience and help them begin to build relationships with bilingual teachers, says Patricia D. LÁ³pez, an assistant professor at Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development.

“We’ll be working with K-12 schools to demystify the teaching profession for these students,” says LÁ³pez, who will oversee the grant. “We also want to provide them with social capital in the profession, which is particularly important for first-generation teachers of color.”

LÁ³pez and her team will also work with two local community colleges to create pathways for these students to move through general education courses to upper-level certification programs at the university.

For its part, the state Department of Education intends to urge lawmakers to increase funding for bilingual programs and for professional development. In another effort to address the bilingual teacher shortage, officials want to ramp up exchange programs that bring teachers from Mexico and Spain to California classrooms.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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