The national shortage of bilingual K-12 teachers can be resolved if policymakers address a series of hurdles that keep well-suited candidates out of the classroom, a new report contends.
Titled “Multilingual Paraprofessionals: An Untapped Resource for Supporting American Pluralism,” the policy brief from the New America Foundation’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group argues that multilingual paraprofessionals have the “linguistic and cultural competencies their schools need,” but often face obstacles that keep them from serving as lead teachers.
The bureaucratic, financial, academic, and linguistic hurdles keep them from becoming fully-licensed teachers in classrooms, where they’re sorely needed to educate an ever-expanding English-language learner population.
“Today’s students will be the country’s voters, homebuyers, and veterans,” the authors write. “Their path to professional success—and the country’s path to continued prosperity—depends on how well our schools prepare them to succeed.”
To this point, schools and policymakers aren’t doing enough to ensure that success, the brief argues. While the nation’s English-learner population is growing and nearly a quarter of U.S. children speak a non-English language at home, the number of certified instructors with the language skills to teach these students hasn’t kept pace.
The authors make the case that diversity among the nation’s teaching assistant ranks closely resembles that of their students on a variety of measures. They also argue that the “professional distance” between paraprofessionals and teacher licensure is not as wide a gulf as people think.
Among the roadblocks the brief identifies are low wages that keep paraprofessionals from paying for college courses to obtain teaching credentials and state licensure systems that don’t value the native languages of potential teachers.
“The talents and linguistic diversity of America’s paraprofessionals make them an obvious target for public investment,” the authors write.
As part of a look at English-learner education in the St. Cloud, Minn., schools, Education Week reported on an effort to get more Somali-speaking staff in classrooms as aides and lead teachers. The district and its Somali staff members faced many of the challenges outlined in the New America brief, including the cost of college.
The New America reports marks the beginning a two-year effort by the Dual Language Learner National Work Group to identify policies that can help more multilingual paraprofessionals earn full teacher certification. The effort will also highlight local, state, and national policies that show promise for growing a multilingual teaching corps.
“Policies that expand access to multilingual instruction are investments in a stronger, wealthier, more plural America,” the authors argue.
Blog Photo Credit: Ahmed Hassan, left, a bilingual communication support specialist at Talahi Elementary School in St. Cloud, Minn., mediates a conflict between Adnan Ahmed, 10, center, and Zeyle Mohamed, 10. Hassan provides linguistic and cultural support to school staff members and Somali families.
--Swikar Patel/Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.