San Diego State University program latest to take aim at preparing more diverse, bilingual teachers

September 23, 2019

California currently faces a shortage of bilingual teachers. In this photo, students listen on during a during a Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) class in El Monte in October 2015.

Working with three nearby community colleges, San Diego State University is launching a training program aimed at increasing the number of Latino and bilingual teachers in California. 

Beginning next year, San Diego City College, Southwestern College and San Diego Mesa College — each with significant Latino student populations — will send 100 students annually to San Diego State’s bilingual credentials program, which prepares teachers to teach in bilingual K-12 classrooms. Students who participate in the partnership, announced last month and supported by a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, will receive stipends to cover some costs, such as books, exam registration fees and professional development opportunities, but not tuition. 

The federally funded initiative aims to address two statewide trends: the representation gap that exists across California, where the percentage of Latino students far outpaces the percentage of Latino teachers, and the shortage of bilingual teachers. That shortage has grown following the 2016 approval of Proposition 58, which repealed restrictions on bilingual education in the state. 

San Diego State already produces more bilingual educators than any other university or college in the state, according to the university. By recruiting students from nearby community colleges, the new initiative, officially called Developing Effective Bilingual Educators with Resources (DEBER), will draw on a heavily Latino population of students. At San Diego Mesa College, 38 percent of students are Latino, while Latino students make up half of San Diego City College’s student body and about 70 percent of the Southwestern College student population.

California’s teaching force has become more diverse over the past two decades, with the percentage of white teachers dropping from 77 percent in the 1998-99 school year to 62 percent in the 2017-18 school year. But because the state’s student population has also become more diverse, the representation gap has worsened among some ethnic groups, including Latinos. 

“If we really want to recruit more students locally in San Diego, we should really be looking at our community college partners,” said Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, a professor emeritus at San Diego State who wrote the application for the grant. She is also the former chair of the university’s Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education, which houses the bilingual credentials program. 

San Diego State isn’t the only institution working to close the representation gap. Last year, Cal State San Marcos was similarly awarded a $2.7 million federal grant to increase recruitment and support for prospective Latino teachers. 

Experts say, and research shows, that students of color tend to perform better in classrooms with teachers of color. But across California, about 54 percent of students are Latino, compared to only 20 percent of teachers.

A 2018 Learning Policy Institute report found that teachers of color lead to better reading and math test scores as well as higher graduation rates among students of color. According to the report, there are several possible explanations for those improved outcomes, such as teachers of color having a “role model effect,” where students of color identify more closely with their teachers, and teachers of color having higher expectations for their students of color than white teachers do.

“Those high expectations combined with the right support can have really significant impacts on students’ learning and growth,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of The Education Trust–West, an education advocacy group. 

Janette Martinez, a former teacher, said that when she was a teacher, she was able to easily connect with her Latino students. 

“When I had my students, 95 percent of them were Latino. And for me, it was easier to pick up on what they were missing, what they were lacking, what gaps needed to be filled and to empathize better and think, ‘Ok, what helped me that can potentially help them?’” said Martinez, who is now a senior policy and research analyst with Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for Latino student success. 

In addition to California’s disproportionately low number of Latino teachers, the state also is experiencing a shortage of bilingual teachers. 

Following the 1998 enactment of Proposition 227, which required that English learners be taught in English-only classrooms, the number of English learner students served by bilingual programs dropped from 30 percent in 1998 to 6 percent by 2007, according to the state. During the 2015-16 school year, California issued fewer than 700 bilingual teacher authorizations, down from a peak of more than 1,800 in 1994-95, according to the Learning Policy Institute. 

Proposition 58, approved by voters in 2016, effectively repealed Prop 227 and allowed more schools to have bilingual or dual-immersion programs. The new law triggered increased demand for bilingual teachers, further exacerbating the shortage of those teachers. 

According to a 2017 survey by Californians Together, an education advocacy group, 58 percent of schools in the state reported plans to expand bilingual education — but 86 percent said a shortage of bilingual teachers was a major obstacle to realizing those goals.

The California Department of Education’s Global California 2030 report, published last year, says that by 2030, the state should double its number of bilingual teacher preparation programs as well as double the number of new bilingual teacher authorizations it gives annually. Global California 2030 was an initiative of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and is described as a “call to action” for California to broaden teaching and learning of world languages.

San Diego State’s new initiative, which will run for five years, will create a pathway for about 500 additional teachers to receive a bilingual teaching credential.

“With the increased demand right now across the state for bilingual teachers, this just really fits within that time frame,” Cadiero-Kaplan said. 

Through the new initiative, students from the nearby community colleges will transfer into the bilingual credentials program and have the option of receiving a single subject credential or a multiple subject credential. Students who receive a single subject bilingual credential will be able to teach in a bilingual Spanish 6-12 grade classroom in a specific subject. Students who receive a multiple subject bilingual credential can teach in an elementary school classroom that is bilingual Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin or Filipino.

Other programs across the state also are intended to train more bilingual teachers.

Last year, the state awarded a total of $5 million in grants to four school districts and four county offices of education as part of a program that will provide professional development support to prospective bilingual educators, as well as teachers who are already credentialed but are interested in learning new skills. Recipients of the Bilingual Teacher Professional Development grants included Riverside Unified School District, Oak Grove School District, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the Sacramento Office of Education

Because she is now retired, Cadiero-Kaplan turned the San Diego State project over to Saúl Maldonado and Sera Hernandez, who are faculty members at the university, and Cristina Alfaro, a former chair of the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education who currently serves as the university’s Provost Chair of Latinx and Transborder Affairs. Cadiero-Kaplan said she will remain involved with the project in an advisory role.

Alfaro said in an email that the partnership, which is funded through the Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions Division, fits with the university’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

“DEBER is positioned to strategically and intentionally create pathways and resources to ensure that SDSU develops an infrastructure to better serve our Latinx-Chicanx student community in their trajectory from high school to community college to the university,” she said.

Cadiero-Kaplan added that the partnership, which will remain in effect for five years, represents “an opportunity to reach out to local students that want to become teachers.”

“If you have an opportunity to bring local students who are predominantly Latino into an institution that’s in your community to become teachers, then you are going to start to have teachers that match the student population,” she said.

“But if those opportunities don’t exist — if the majority of those students are underserved, underrepresented and from low socio-economic background, how do they get to San Diego State?” she continued. “And if they happen to be a majority of students of color, and they’re not able to get teaching credentials, then what are we doing? It’s our duty to serve those students.”

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