ELL Teachers Are in Short Supply. Some Lawmakers Want to Fix That

By Corey Mitchell — September 21, 2018 2 min read
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A group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate have introduced their version of a bill designed to address the national shortage of teachers who work with English-language learners.

The Reaching English Learners Act would create a grant program under Title II of the Higher Education Act, the part of the law that regulates teacher preparation, to pave the way for colleges and school districts to develop curricula for aspiring ELL teachers.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who has emerged as an English-learner advocate on Capitol Hill, introduced the bill. Among the co-sponsors of the legislation are U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California —which is home to more than 1.5 million English-learners —and U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who began her formal education as an English-learner.

Democrats in the U.S. House introduced a similar bill in January. While the legislation now has more than 20 co-sponsors, the bill hasn’t gained traction. No action has been taken on the bill since it was referred to the House education committee that same month.

Lawmakers in both chambers want the grants to help develop educators who can recognize and address the social-emotional needs of English-learners, identify and teach English-learner students with disabilities, and promote family and community engagement in ELL programs.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education reported that at least 32 states have a shortage of teachers to work with English-learners and challenges remain even after schools fill vacancies. A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that teachers who work with English-learners are often underprepared for the job.

TESOL International, the organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, is among the organizations supporting the legislation.

“The demand for qualified English-language educators is not only higher than ever before, but also extends beyond the classroom and into local communities, which depend on young English-learners to become knowledgeable and productive members. Action by Congress is sorely needed,” wrote Christopher Powers, the executive director of TESOL, wrote in a letter supporting the legislation.

Here’s a look at the bill.

Related Reading on English-Learner Education

Few Aspiring Teachers Aim to Work With English-Learners, Report Finds

English-Learners Are a Diverse Group. How Can Schools Meet Their Needs?

Policy Changes Could Solve the Nation’s Bilingual Teacher Shortage, Group Argues

Schools Often Fail to Educate, Support English-Language Learners

Photo Credit: Andrew Echeverria, left, gets help from Joel Miller, a veteran educator who teaches a course for long-term English-learners at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. The course was created to help students who have struggled to become proficient in English.
--Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.