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Certification for ESL Grows

Learning the countries and cultures of students.

The University of Rhode Island (URI) has an ESL certification program that is growing like “mad,” with 90 masters candidates enrolled, according to Nancy Cloud, the coordinator for the program that leads to a masters’ degree in education and ESL certification.

ESL certification is so valuable in K12 education now because the demands for ESL teachers are growing while regular classroom positions are being eliminated in some districts, she adds.

Cloud emphasizes that her program is not preparing teachers to deal with specific languages, but it offers online materials about the countries and cultures from which students are likely to come. The materials sum up the educational system, literacy rate, languages spoken, and customs of each. For instance, in Ethiopia, the URI site notes, students study in one of several native languages through seventh grade, after which instruction is delivered in English; parents in urban areas stress student achievement, but illness and harvesting work in rural areas lead to spotty school attendance.

“We’re teaching them how to discover the features of each child’s culture and] language,” Cloud explains. “That involves considerable data gathering, from understanding how much education they have had in their native countries to the level of English proficiency their parents have.”

But Cloud is concerned about the “absolute expectations of the Common Core,” adding that assessments need to consider the individual progress students have made in English language proficiency over their careers in American schools.