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U.S. Study Reports Shortage of Qualified Bilingual-Ed. Teachers

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The current policy debate over the classification and instruction of students with limited proficiency in English appears to be reflected in a new federally sponsored study assessing the level of need for bilingual-education teachers nationally and the quality of the programs that train them.

The three-year, $500,000 study conducted for the U.S. Education Department (ed) uses two different nationwide estimates of the number of children requiring bilingual education to determine the extent of the current shortage of trained teachers to instruct them.

Given a low estimate of 1,388,000 children nationwide--an estimate that excludes children whose English skills are poor, but whose native-language ability is also poor, there are 15,700 fewer bilingual educators currently than are needed to teach such children, according to the study.

Given a high estimate of 2,927,000 children nationwide--an estimate that includes the substantial group whose skills in both English and their native language are limited--there are 55,600 fewer qualified bilingual-education teachers available than are currently needed to teach such children.

Under either way of estimating the number of children to be served, according to the study, the shortage will become more acute as the projected growth in the number of non-English-speaking students puts increasing pressure on local school systems.

Conducted by the California-based RMC Research Corporation under contract with the Education Department, the two-part study also looks at the federally sponsored programs, funded under Title VII of the Bi-lingual Education Act, that support the training of bilingual-education teachers.

David Kaskowitz of RMC Research, said the researchers used the low estimate based on an internal ed study and the high estimate reported in a study conducted by InterAmerica Research Associates, Inc., to show the gap between supply and demand. "These were the only two sets of data that were available and current at the time [spring 1982]," he said.

Both estimates were used, Mr. Kaskowitz said, because "there's a question about which one is the right number."

Student Eligibility Redefined

The Reagan Administration already proposes to use the low estimate of the number of students in need of services under the Bilingual Education Act, which officials are planning to amend to redefine the kinds of students who would be eligible. Education Department officials argue that students whose proficiency is limited in both their native language and English would not be effectively served by native-language instruction.

The Administration's proposed amendment would allow districts to choose whatever method they think best to teach such students, a change that is vehemently opposed by bilingual educators.

And in fiscal 1983, federal support for bilingual-education programs would be reduced by more than 31 percent, from $138- million in fiscal 1982 to about $95 million under the Administration's proposal. Funds for training grants for teachers provided under Title VII of the Bilingual Education Act would be reduced by about 11 percent, from $$28.8 million in fiscal 1982 to $25.5 million in fiscal 1983.

The Administration's proposed amend-ments to the Bilingual Education Act were influenced in part by an earlier study conducted by the Education Department's office of planning, budget, and evaluation. That study also concluded that the number of language-minority students requiring bilingual instruction was half the 3.6-million figure used by ed's office of bilingual education and minority language affairs (obemla), which administers Title VII programs.

Relying partly on the conclusions of that earlier study, the RMC Research group's report on teacher-training programs estimated that the number of limited-English-proficient students between the ages of 5 and 14 will increase from about 2.4 million in 1980 to 3.4 million by the year 2000.

The report's authors acknowledge that all their estimates as to the need for trained bilingual-education specialists depend upon the assumption that bilingual instruction is chosen as the teaching method.

They do not comment on the current Education Department position that districts should be free to choose other methods of instruction for limited-English-proficient students.

The report notes that about 1,900 qualified bilingual-education teachers graduate from education schools annually. At that rate, they suggest, it could take up to 19 years to fulfill the need for bilingual-education teachers, assuming an attrition rate of 5 percent per year.

One informed source, however, said the report's findings of a teacher shortage, regardless of the estimated range, could present an argument for no longer requiring "transitional-bilingual-education" instruction.

The report also points out that there are differences in the training received by teacher-candidates in Title VII-sponsored programs and those in regular education-school programs. The former, the researchers found, emphasized issues in culture and bilingual education, the latter placed more emphasis on content areas, the teaching of a second language, school-community relations, and classroom evaluation.

Report Finds Teachers Qualified

Both kinds of teachers, the researchers state, are more than minimally qualified to teach in bilingual-education programs, and they are more apt (80 percent or more) to find jobs in their field within a year of graduation than are other graduates of teacher-training programs (55 percent).

A spokesman in the Education Department's bilingual-education office declined to comment on the relation of the study to current departmental policy discussions. He said the teacher-training study offers the best estimates on the future demand for and current supply of bilingual-education teachers, given the disagreement over the exact number of students needing bilingual-education programs. He said the study will assist department officials in formulating policy.

Although the report recommends increasing federal funding for teacher-training programs, it suggests that program grants should be made selectively. In many of the existing programs, the report explains, enrollment is "substantially less than capacity."

In addition, the report recommends that obemla develop a strategy for recruiting bilingual-education teacher candidates from among the existing pool of public-school teachers. The report estimates that there are about 100,000 such candidates with partial qualifications.

Copies of the report, "A Study of Teacher Training Programs in Bilingual Education," are available from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1300 Wilson Blvd., Rosslyn, Va. 22209.

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