As some districts in California struggle to expand their bilingual programs under a new state law, more than a dozen school districts and county offices of education have received state funding to increase the number of bilingual teachers — an effort that has been hindered by an ongoing teacher shortage.
California’s new law went into effect July 1, 2017 as a result of Proposition 58, approved by voters in November 2016. The law effectively repealed Prop. 227, the English-only initiative that had been in place since 1998. The new law allows more schools to create bilingual or dual-immersion programs, in which English learners are in classes with native English speakers learning to speak another language. Prop. 227 required that all English learners be taught in English-only classrooms unless a parent signed a waiver allowing entry to a bilingual program.
To help meet demand for more bilingual teachers, the state awarded $5 million in grants to four school districts and four county offices of education. Some of the districts and county offices are lead agencies for several other districts and offices that applied for the funding as a group. The grant program will provide professional development to both prospective bilingual teachers and credentialed bilingual teachers seeking to update their skills.
The Bilingual Teacher Professional Development grants were awarded to the Oak Grove School District, a district-lead for the grant award that includes 10 districts; Anaheim Union High School District, a district-lead for the grant award that includes three districts; Patterson Joint Unified School District and Riverside Unified School District; as well as the Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Luis Obispo county offices of education. The grants will pay for training, including university courses, for teachers who speak English and another language but lack a bilingual teaching credential. The grant is also providing training for credentialed bilingual teachers who have not taught in a bilingual classroom for several years and need to strengthen their skills. Districts estimate more than 500 teachers will benefit from the grant.
It is critical that as California districts increase the number of bilingual programs and adjust strategies for teaching multiple languages that teachers are adequately prepared with updated curriculum, instructional materials and classroom skills, said Fernando Rodriguez-Valls, associate professor of secondary education for Cal State Fullerton.
“We need to prepare teachers for this new scenario. It would be unfair to push anyone into the complexity of this new system without training,” said Rodriguez-Valls, who is also the coordinator for the bilingual authorization program through Cal State Fullerton.
California has nearly 1.4 million English Learners. With the passage of Prop 58, districts have the flexibility to create more bilingual programs based on demand. There is no official statewide data on the number of bilingual programs before and after the new law passed or specifics on the number of bilingual teachers needed. However, Californians Together, a coalition of organizations that advocate for English learners, estimates there are 500 dual language programs in California and says that number is expected to climb. It also surveyed 111 of the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts in a report on the statewide bilingual teacher shortage. It found that 58 percent have plans to expand bilingual education and that 86 percent expect a teacher shortage.
Districts’ approaches differ but all are partnering with universities to help teachers earn a credential to teach in bilingual classrooms. Some are offering teachers support with test preparation for exams. Districts are also planning to recruit potential teachers by reaching out to high school and community college students who already speak English and a second language such as Spanish. Several districts are training principals so bilingual teachers and those who are in the process of becoming bilingual teachers have support.
Ruth Baskett, a director with the Los Angeles County Office of Education Multilingual Academic Support Unit, said the funding has enabled them to provide personalized support to small and medium-sized districts that have had challenges expanding their bilingual programs. “We are really excited by the fact that the legislation yielded money for this purpose,” Baskett said. “We want to get as many teachers across the finish line as possible. We want to increase the pool of bilingual teachers and truly address the shortage. That is our goal.”
The Los Angeles County Office of Education has also expanded test preparation services to help more teachers taking the California Subject Examinations for Teachers, or CSET, a requirement to earn a bilingual authorization. The Patterson Joint Unified School District is one of a few districts that is a part of the grant program that is providing workshops and training opportunities to prepare teachers for the test. The San Luis Obispo and Oak Grove school districts are in the process of developing programs to support test preparation.
Through a partnership with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Office of Education will provide training and coursework to teachers who already have a bilingual authorization but need to strengthen their language skills for teaching subjects like science and social studies. The training focuses on specific content areas so teachers can learn the language in the subject areas they teach. Baskett said bilingual teachers have to have “a deep understanding of the language and literacy” in addition to strong teaching skills, and training can help strengthen those skills, she said.
Similar to Los Angeles County, the Oak Grove School District is offering bilingual teachers the opportunity to enhance language and teaching skills. Amy Boles, director of educational services for the Oak Grove School District, said before district officials began planning programs they asked teachers, “What’s holding you back from teaching in a bilingual classroom, what do you need and what can we do to help you feel comfortable going back into the classroom?” For some teachers the answers included more language training because the higher the grade level, the more sophisticated the vocabulary and content, Boles said.
Oak Grove has so far selected 77 teachers for training, starting with 35 teachers who will take online courses at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles starting in September. Oak Grove is also planning to launch a program to offer teacher assistants who are fluent in two languages training to help them earn a bilingual credential.
In San Bernardino County, 37 teachers will earn their bilingual authorization through UC Riverside. In Sacramento, up to 35 teachers will go through similar training through Sacramento State in the spring. In the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education the process began this summer with a two-week intensive program at UCLA, said Traci Theis, a program coordinator for the office. The program includes other counties: Kern, Monterey, King, Santa Barbara and some parts of Ventura. Theis said starting this fall a cohort of 12 teachers will attend classes on Saturdays at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to earn their bilingual authorization. The district estimates 100 teachers will earn their bilingual authorization through the end of the grant period, June 2020. At least 200 prospective teachers will be a part of workshops, an upcoming symposium and in-person and online professional development. Theis said these may take place through individual counties or a joint effort in one part of the region.
In addition to providing more language training to credentialed teachers who are returning to bilingual classrooms, some districts have also allocated funds to offer training and support to principals and site directors of dual language programs. The Los Angeles County Office of Education used the funding to create a collaborative for principals and directors of bilingual programs that will focus on finding solutions to challenges that might arise during training.
The Anaheim Union High School District is taking a similar approach and offering training opportunities to principals, assistant principals and others in charge of bilingual education. “These are flagship programs for schools and for districts. It’s important that leaders have an understanding of what teachers and programs need,” said Renae Bryant, the director of English learner and multilingual services in the district. “It is about understanding the scope and depth of these programs, knowing what to look for in their classrooms, that the target language is being spoken at all times.”
In the Patterson Joint Unified School District the funding will help teacher retention by offering more training and opportunities to teach in bilingual programs in the district. Veronica Miranda, assistant superintendent of educational services for the district, said every year the district deals with teacher turnover. “They are trained here and leave and go to other districts,” she said. The grants will help motivate teachers to stay and give the district a better chance at recruitment, she said. Patterson is also one of the few districts in the grant program that is training teacher assistants to become bilingual teachers. The district has selected 10 teacher assistants who will begin the process this fall to earn their bilingual authorization.
James Brescia, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, said the grant has improved communication among districts about bilingual education and that he is optimistic about its potential to improve the ability of the districts to attract more teachers. “I think we are growing the workforce and there will be a ripple effect,” Brescia said. “Teachers will say, ‘Look what I’ve done,’ and they will become ambassadors and sales people, so to speak, for the bilingual credential. The challenge will be keeping the incentive high for teachers.”
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