English-Language Learners

Bilingual Students Are Underserved, E.D. Report Says

By Lynn Olson — November 21, 1984 5 min read

Washington--The Education Department’s new biennial report on bilingual education indicates that students with limited proficiency in English remain an underserved population and that many of the teachers who are trained to help them are, for some reason, not in programs utilizing those skills.

The report notes, however, that states are expanding their programs for limited-English-proficient (lep) students.

Widespread Problem

Nearly 25 percent of all public-school teachers in the United States had students with limited proficiency in English in their classes in 1980-81, but only 3.2 percent of those teachers said they had the academic preparation or the language skills to instruct their lep students, according to data from the Education Department’s report, “The Condition of Bilingual Education in the Nation, 1984.”

Bilingual-education programs supported under Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act serve only about 10 percent of the children who might need such services, according to the report, which notes that Title VII programs reached some 234,000 students in fiscal 1984.

The biennial report to the Congress and the President is mandated by the Bilingual Education Act. The Education Department released the report last month.

Student Population Increases

The department reports that the number of children identified as having limited proficiency in English jumped by 20 percent, from 2.0 million to 2.4 million, between 1978 and 1982, the most recent year for which data are available.

The number of 5- to 18-year-olds from homes where the primary language spoken is not English increased by 18 percent between 1978 and 1982--from 3.8 million to 4.5 million children. The report cautions that these figures are preliminary and that not all these children have problems with the English language that would require special services.

The population estimates are based on figures from the 1980 Census and the department’s 1982 survey of English-language proficiency.

Teacher Shortage

Of the approximately 500,000 teachers with lep students in their classes in 1980-81, some 56,000 used a foreign language in the classroom, with or without English-as-a-second-language instruction, the report notes. An additional 103,000 teachers used English-as-a-second-language instruction only and did not provide any instruction in the children’s native language.

But only 21.4 percent of the teachers who used a foreign language for instruction in their classroom said they had the language skills and the basic academic preparation necessary to teach language arts or other subjects to such students.

Moreover, the report says that many teachers with training to provide bilingual instruction were not doing so. Of the approximately 59,000 teachers in 1980 with training in English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education, only 32,000 were using their training in 1980.

‘Unassigned’ Teachers

“These ‘unassigned’ teachers either are not assigned to teach lep students or have been assigned to teach them but are not using their training,” the report states. “The Education Department needs to investigate the extent to which this situation may be remedied so that the highest proportion of trained teachers possible is utilized to instruct lep students.”

In 1980, there were approximately 17,000 teachers trained only in English-as-a-second-language teaching, the report notes. Of these, only 4,000 were using their training that year.

These statistics are based, the document says, on the department’s 1980 Teacher Language Skills Survey, which asked a national sample of teachers about their language skills for teaching students whose language is not English, their training to provide bilingual or English-as-a-second-language instruction, and their current teaching assignments.

As of fiscal 1983, according to the report, 33 states had bilingual-education or English-as-a-second-language teaching certificates in place or under development.

Fewer Dollars, More Served

Although funding for the Title VII bilingual-education program was reduced between fiscal 1982 and 1983, from $132 million to $131 million, the program served 40-percent more children, the report says.

In fiscal 1982, 176,000 students with limited proficiency in English were served by Title VII programs; in fiscal 1984, that number jumped to 234,000 students.

A department official last week said the increase was due to the fact that more states had started assuming some of the financial responsibility for bilingual-education programs and had developed the capacity to carry out these programs without federal assistance.

State Support Growing

State support for bilingual education continued to grow in fiscal 1982 and 1983, according to the report. In 1983, 22 states and American Samoa had legislation that either mandated bilingual education for students with limited proficiency in English or permitted schools to instruct them in languages other than English.

Results of two Education Department studies indicate that about one-third of the children in kindergarten through 12th grade with limited proficiency in English receive either bilingual-education or English-as-a-second-language services that are financed by state and local agencies, the biennial report states.

Transitional bilingual education provides students with content-area instruction in their native language in addition to intensive instruction in English. English-as-a-second-language programs provide all instruction in English.

State support for bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs was also up from past years. In fiscal 1983, state expendituresel35lwere approximately $224 million, the report notes, and states served an estimated 925,000 students with limited proficiency in English.

Other Federal Programs

The report also includes information on language-minority students who were served through federal education programs other than Title VII.

The Chapter 1 remedial-education program, for example, served some 3.4 million students in each of the last two years, the document reports. Twenty-one percent of these students were Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaskan Native.

In the 1981-82 school year, more than 490,000 language-minority students received Chapter 1 services for limited-English speakers, representing more than a 13-percent increase over two years earlier. In 1981-82, some 600,000 students from Spanish-speaking homes were served by Chapter 1, as were more than 200,000 students from homes where a language other than English or Spanish is spoken.

Copies of the report and an executive summary are available from the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. For ordering information, write or call ncbe, 1555 Wilson Blvd., Suite 605, Rosslyn, Va. 22209; (800) 336-4560 or (703) 522-0710.


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