Districts Vying for Limited Supply of Bilingual Instructors

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The Dallas school district, struggling with a shortage of more than 300 bilingual-education teachers, this month launched a new "Special Thrust" spring recruitment program that will utilize a staff of 21 and cost about $50,000. The recruiters will travel extensively, advertise in local newspapers and on local radio stations, and then set up "recruitment shops" in hotels.

In Houston, so many Spanish-speaking students with little or no ability in English are enrolling in the public schools that the district is seeking 750 new bilingual-education teachers. "Every two weeks we add a new position in our bilingual program," said Benjamin Avila, a recruitment official with the Houston district. Last year, Houston's recruiting teams spent about $70,000 "canvassing" for new teachers out of state.

In Los Angeles, school officials will take "as many as we can find"--up to 1,000 new bilingual-education teachers, according to Robert D. Albin, director of the system's bilingual-staffing unit.

When they say they are looking for "bilingual" teachers, officials pointed out, they mean teachers who can teach both bilingual-education and English-as-a-second-language classes.

School districts will find many of these new recruits in their own states, officials say, either at teachers' colleges or in the local community. But many officials agree that teacher-education programs are not producing enough graduates to meet the increasing needs.

A report conducted for the U.S. Department of Education last year found an unmet demand for as many as 55,000 teachers qualified to teach limited-English-speaking students and noted that only about 1,900 such teachers graduate from educa-tion schools annually. (See Education Week, June 9, 1982.)

The problem has become so acute that many big districts are raiding each other's teaching staffs in recruitment sweeps from coast to coast that involve dozens of staff members and thousands of dollars.

"What we're doing is stealing from each other," said Robert L. Johnson, administrative assistant to the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. "We're spending all our time recruiting, but the pie is too small."

"If we can find three or four [teachers] in one spot, we feel pretty good about it," said Houston school official Robert L. McCain. "Anywhere you go, they need them there, too. The teachers kind of swap around between school districts. You can't chain them up."

A key component of the recruiting strategy in a number of districts has been to waive certification requirements. The waivers allow districts troubled by shortages to hire teachers who speak a second language but are not trained in bilingual-instruction methods. In Houston, teachers without certification in bilingual education, or in any subject, can have requirements waived if they are enrolled at a four-year university in a program that will qualify them for certification within two years, a district spokesman said.

A spokesman for the National Association for Bilingual Education said that the association "recognizes that it [raiding] goes on" and that the only way to halt it is to expand the pool of qualified teachers. One unfortunate effect of raiding "is to increase the rate of classroom turnover," said James J. Lyons, the association's counsel.

Mr. Lyons said the waiver system was necessary during the shortage, and warned that "undue reliance" on certification could eliminate minority classroom assistants, such as parents and aides, who are "invaluable to the students."

Until recently, there was a distinct pattern to the raiding, school officials from several large districts said. California, Michigan, and Illinois--all states with high salary scales and big Hispanic populations--regularly raided Texas public schools, where bilingual teachers were paid less, said Angel Gonzales, chief of the bilingual curriculum in Dallas. Texas, in turn, recruited in states with still lower salary scales, like New Mexico and Colorado.

In 1981, Michigan led in starting salaries, with $15,027 for certified teachers with baccalaureate degrees, and tied with Illinois for the highest maximum salary offered a teacher with a master's degree, according to National Education Association figures.

This year, although the overall shortage is still acute, that pattern has changed, according to school officials. Now, the flow of bilingual teachers is mainly into Texas, instead of into California, Michigan, and Illinois. And teachers are remaining in the smaller Southwestern states, such as New Mexico.

Trend Toward Southwest

"There's a trend toward the Southwest," said Melissa Harris, who operates a year-round job bank for the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education in Washington, D.C. There are still many job openings in Northern cities, such as New York and Chicago, she said, but many bilingual-education teachers considering a move "will write and specify Texas."

Texas's new applicants are migrants from New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan, "because of the cut-backs up there, because we have a recession-proof reputation, and because of our attractive climate," said Delia S. Pompa, director of bilingual education in the Houston district.

Others agree that the severity of the economic recession in North Central and Northeast states partly accounts for this shift. Cutbacks in school budgets have created an instability that discourages applicants. In Chicago, for example, starting teachers' salaries are more than $3,000 higher than in most parts of Texas, where the state minimum is $11,100, and school officials say they urgently need bilingual-education teachers.

But the threat of job cuts, they say, now outweighs the lure of the high salaries. The district, therefore, will concentrate on combing local Hispanic groups for new teachers, rather than sending teams to the Southwest.

Some energy-rich Texas districts have also increased their attractiveness to out-of-state teachers by offering them higher salaries. Houston, for example, now offers $16,000 to beginning, certified teachers with a baccalaureate degree.

And unlike its main competitors in the bilingual market--Michigan, Illinois, New York, California--Texas does not give teachers collective-bargaining rights and thus is not bound by contractual agreements with teachers about salary scales. This year, Houston is offering bilingual teachers, and others in critically needed subjects, special stipends that can total as much as $5,000 above the regular salaries.

Under the "Second Mile Plan," teachers can earn more money if, for example, they have no unexcused absences, take five or fewer days of sick leave during the school year, score at a certain level on the district's teacher-assessment test, agree to teach in a "high-priority school," and if their pupils make high test scores.

The plans mean that "a starting teacher with a B.A. can easily make $21,000," Mr. Avila said, and that appears to be drawing a lot of interest. Mr. Avila reported that he receives about 200 inquiries a day regarding bilingual-education positions. Meanwhile, Los Angeles officials said they will not send recruiting teams to Texas this spring because they were "not successful on the last trip."

John Dunlop, manager of negotiations at the nea, said the union objects to the stipend system because it suggests that bilingual-education teachers are worth more than other teachers. He also noted that the Houston second-year pay plan is based merely on a set of conditions that a teacher could fail to meet. "There's a degree of speculation; it's not guaranteed dollars," he said.

Mr. Dunlop foresees no shift in union-pay policies in collective-bargaining states that would counter the movement of bilingual teachers to the Southwest. General economic conditions and the region's climate, in his view, are causing the movement. "The draw of the stipends is not a significant factor," he said.

Problem Unsolved

But even with its recruiting successes, the Southwest has not solved the problem of teaching students who speak little or no English. "Sometimes the problems in small Texas agricultural towns are most critical," said Joel Gomez, president of the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Schools in these towns, he pointed out, are often suddenly flooded by waves of new Spanish-speaking immigrants and have few resources for recruiting new teachers.

Even Dallas and Houston school officials acknowledged that raiding other districts for bilingual teachers is likely to be only a temporary solution to the shortage. The real problem is that the total supply of bilingual teachers is inadequate, said Houston's Mr. McCain; the only long-term solution is for districts to train their own bilingual teachers from within their own communities, so that they will develop a loyalty to the district, Mr. McCain said.

Vol. 02, Issue 26

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