Few early childhood teachers have bilingual, ESL credentials

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Just 6 percent of early childhood teachers in a recent survey had bilingual or English as a Second Language credentials, according to a report released Tuesday by the Latino Policy Forum and New Journalism on Latino Children.

Since almost 20 percent of Illinois students come into kindergarten as English-learners, there is a substantial gap between the need for bilingual services and the supply.

The survey examined teachers between birth and 3rd grade in programs that receive state Prevention Initiative (birth to age 3) or Preschool for All (age 3 to 5) funding. The data don’t show how far the state is from meeting a fall 2014 bilingual certification requirement for preschool teachers, because the survey included programs that aren’t affected by the requirement. The mandate only applies to teachers in state preschool programs administered by school districts.

One survey question indicated the state may have a tough road ahead. The survey found that a large number of program directors – 43 percent – reported that none of their certified teachers were interested in seeking bilingual or ESL endorsements.

“There is a sense that there isn’t a whole lot of interest in pursuing, or need for, the certifications,” says Margaret Bridges, a senior research scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, who coauthored the report. “I think there probably is some confusion… about who is under the new mandate.”

However, 12 percent of program directors – and 26 percent in heavily Latino areas – reported that all of their staff members were interested, showing that some teachers’ interest has been piqued.

For the time being, though, many students may not be getting access to bilingual instruction. Across all program types, there were 35 English-learners for each bilingual or ESL certified teacher, and in heavily Latino areas, it was 50 students – showing that many may not be getting face time with qualified teachers.

“Interacting with a teacher is an important part of learning,” Bridges says. “[It provides] social-emotional support, but [it’s] also how teachers model language and offer instructional support to children.”

Sylvia Puente, executive director of Latino Policy Forum, says principals and teachers need more education about the issues and more universities need to offer bilingual certification programs tailored for early childhood candidates. Just two currently do, but as of spring 2011, seven more universities had programs in the works.

Looking to the future, Puente would eventually like to see all teachers, early childhood through high school, required to take substantial coursework – “ideally a full endorsement” – in either ESL or bilingual education.

“We are beginning to plant the seeds of that,” Puente says. “Policy change happens very slowly and the idea has got to be buzzing around.”