Teacher Preparation

The National Shortage of ELL Teachers Has Caught the Eye of Congress

By Corey Mitchell — January 25, 2018 2 min read
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A group of Democrats in Congress has introduced a bill designed to remedy 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 governs teacher preparation, to pave the way for colleges and school districts to develop curricula for aspiring ELL teachers.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education reported that at least 32 states have a shortage of teachers to work with English-learners, but the problem is not new. School districts have struggled for decades to find qualified bilingual teachers, especially in communities where English is not the first language for many students.

With the nationwide growth in the number of English-language-learner students, more districts are tapping a thin talent pool—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.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina, Adriano Espaillat of New York, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island co-sponsored the legislation. Adams, Espaillat, and Grijalva are all members of the House Education Committee. The lawmakers 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.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, TESOL International Association, the organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, and UnidosUS are among the organizations supporting the legislation.

Here’s a look at the bill and a summary.

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Photo Credit: Teaching assistant Richard Nolasco listens to Joshua Flores and Ke’mari Barnes during their prekindergarten class at Tulsa’s Dual Language Academy. The population of Oklahoma’s second-largest school district has shifted dramatically in recent years, with nearly 1 in every 3 students coming from homes where Spanish is the primary language.
--Shane Bevel for Education Week

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