Teacher Shortages and Red Tape Hurt Effort To Help Immigrants, E.D. Told

By Peter Schmidt — January 17, 1990 3 min read

Washington--The Education Department’s office of bilingual education and minority-language affairs brought together local superintendents and personnel directors last week and heard them describe themselves as too hamstrung by teacher shortages and red tape to begin to meet the needs of growing immigrant populations.

The national forum on the personnel needs of districts with changing demographics represented the department’s first attempt to solicit local administrators’ views on bilingual education since former President Reagan took office, participants said.

Rita Esquivel, whose appointment as director of OBEMLA was hailed by bilingual educators as signaling a new era of cooperation, told the superintendents she had called them together because she wants to work more closely with local education agencies and those who set their policy in establishing the funding priorities of her office.

The school officials, who were joined by higher-education officials operating programs for bilingual teachers, seized the opportunity to describe themselves as overwhelmed by rising populations of limited-English-proficient students.

In addition to a shortage of teachers, they said, they face a critical need for bilingual psychologists, physical therapists, vocational-education and special-education instructors, and speech pathologists.

“The most difficult thing for me to recruit is psychologists,” said Nilda Soto Ruiz, a personnel director for the New York City Board of Education. She said she had failed to find qualified bilingual school psychologists despite an extensive nationwide recruitment effort.

“There isn’t a pool of teachers to choose from,” said Angel Gonzalez, a personnel director for the Houston Independent School District, who described his school system as in need of 1,500 more teachers to serve its population of limited-English-proficient students.

“All we are producing are English-speaking illiterates,” Mr. Gonzalez said, adding that Houston’s problem has been worsened by the fact that it often loses teachers to California, where districts pay bilingual teachers an annual supplement that is $2,500 higher than Houston’s.

Other officials described similar situations:

  • Superintendent Tom Giugni of the Long Beach (Calif.) Schools, said his district has more than 6,000 Cambodian students and only three certified Cambodian teachers. “We are hundreds of people short as far as bilingual education is concerned,” he said.
  • Terrance Garner, personnel director for the Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, said, “We are getting large numbers of students who do not speak English who were born right here in the United States.”
  • Leonard Britton, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he has watched his district’s share of limited-English-proficient students grow from 15 percent 10 years ago to 30 percent today.

Although it offers a $5,000 salary supplement to bilingual teachers, Mr. Britton said, Los Angeles still “desperately needs” personnel. Short on space, it has also had to declare many schools full and relocate many LEP students to classrooms 5 to 25 miles away from their homes, where the often more-homogenous communities are ill-equipped to deal with them.

Officials from California said that, between 1984 and 1988, their state had witnessed a 33 percent increase in the number of students who speak Spanish, a 105 percent increase in speakers of Hmong, and a 121 percent increase in speakers of Farsi. Meanwhile, about 85 percent of the teachers in the state’s public-school system are white and speak English.

State Requirements Faulted

“This is not only a big-city problem,” said Michele Kostem, personnel director for the Bethlehem (Pa.) Area School District. She noted that smaller districts often do not have the resources larger urban systems have to recruit bilingual educators.

Almost without exception, those gathered here blamed much of their teacher shortage on the fact that strict state requirements prevent them from hiring qualified personnel.

Mark Karadenes, personnel director for the Santa Monica/Malibu Public Schools, said his district has been forced to put many bilingual teachers on waivers because they cannot pass the Spanish section of a state certification test.

Other officials described teachers who were qualified to teach bilingual classes but refused because of the paperwork involved.

The local school officials and representatives from colleges and universities suggested that they work together more closely to recruit bilingual teachers for the schools and ensure they are qualified for their jobs.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 1990 edition of Education Week as Teacher Shortages and Red Tape Hurt Effort To Help Immigrants, E.D. Told