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School districts confront bilingual teaching shortage

‘Grow your own’ models funnel paraprofessionals, high school grads into education
  • GROWING THEIR OWN—A student works on a language assignment at Natomas USD in Northern California. Superintendent Chris Evans says his non-instructional staff and graduates represent a rich pool of bilingual teaching candidates.
  • BILINGUAL BONUS—To staff the K8 dual-immersion program it’s launching, Natomas USD offers prospective teachers a range of incentives, including tuition for certification courses, a laptop and a monthly allowance to live in the district.

With districts facing a shortage of bilingual teachers, paraprofessionals present a rich source of candidates. They often have strong ties to the community and already know students and parents, says Santiago Wood, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

“I don’t believe districts can continue to rely solely and perpetually on overseas recruitment of bilingual teachers,” says Wood, a former superintendent who began his career as a bilingual teacher’s aide.

Considering districts face funding challenges when trying to develop teachers from within, Wood’s organization has pushed states and the federal government to fund fellowships for paraprofessionals and teachers who want to gain certification for bilingual classrooms.

What the research says

Read about efforts underway in other districts that are funneling paraprofessionals into certification programs to fill the bilingual teaching shortage.

Bilingual Teacher Fellows at Highline Public Schools 

How Portland Public Schools is Building a Pipeline of Bilingual Teachers

A paraprofessional could spend up to $40,000 to complete college work and earn certification, Wood says. “By promoting bilingual paraprofessionals to become teachers, it also creates a sense of hope in students that they too can succeed in becoming exceptional bilingual teachers,” Wood says.

Home and abroad

Dallas ISD operates bilingual and dual education classes at all of its 128 schools. The district is creating its own pipeline of bilingual teachers through a partnership with Texas Tech University, and paraprofessionals already working in the district are a key target of these efforts.

Candidates with associates degrees who enter Texas Tech’s year-long program—which includes a student-teaching position in a Dallas school—can graduate with a bachelor’s degree and teaching credentials, says Jordan Carlton, Dallas ISD’s manager of talent acquisition.

“We have a mindset of casting as wide a net as we possibly can,” Carlton says of the district’s efforts to hire about 400 bilingual teachers each year. “We try to think far beyond traditional recruitment.”

The farthest, at least in miles, takes Carlton’s team to Madrid, where they interview prescreened candidates and hire 50 to 80 teachers each year through an agreement between the government of Spain and the state of Texas.

The district operates similar programs in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Dallas ISD also views its own students as future bilingual educators.

In the 2016-17 school year, the district added an education pathway to the college-prep academies at four high schools. Students in this program shadow district teachers and can graduate high school with an associate degree or half the credits toward a bachelor’s.

These programs reflect the reforms necessary to end the national shortage of bilingual teachers, says James J. Lyons, a senior policy adviser at Dual Language Education of New Mexico, a nonprofit that helps communities develop bilingual education programs.

U.S. districts could create a more diverse pool of candidates by developing high school pathways like those launched in Dallas.

“Our teaching force doesn’t represent our population of students linguistically, ethnically, racially or by sex,” Lyons says. “If we started recruiting future teachers at the junior high school level and accompanied that with a career path, we would probably take care of most of the teacher shortage, especially among bilingual people.”

Incentives for diversity

A more diverse teaching force is the goal at Natomas USD in California, one of the nation’s most ethnically rich districts.

The Sacramento district is offering incentives to bilingual teaching candidates—including its own noninstructional staff—as it prepares to launch K8 dual-immersion programs in the next few years, superintendent Chris Evans says.

The district will give college graduates $10,000 that could cover about 80 percent of certification costs. It’s also offering a laptop, a $500-per-month allowance if candidates live in the district, and a $5,000 “diversity” bonus.

The latter would go to candidates who have worked for an organization that supports underserved students or who have pursued cultural or ethnic studies.

Of the 300 people who expressed interest in the offer, 27 are Natomas USD classified staff and 27 are district graduates.

Evans expects to hire between 15 and 20 new teachers this year and similar amounts in the next two years. “We know the program’s coming, so we decided to be proactive rather than waiting for the boom to fall,” Evans says.