Preschool teachers may get more time to meet bilingual requirements

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Preschool teachers in Illinois may get two more years to obtain the required qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to seek public comment on a proposal to delay a requirement that kicks in on July 1 for pre-school English language learners to be taught by educators endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.

The proposed delay is a direct response to school district officials and early childhood advocates from across the state who anticipate staff shortages for the coming school year due to the requirements. According to ISBE, just 10.3 percent of early childhood teachers in Illinois are endorsed in bilingual or English as a Second Language instruction, even though more than 20 percent of preschool children are considered English learners.

In an effort to close achievement gaps between native English speakers and those who grew up speaking another language at home, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require bilingual education services for English learners in state-funded preschools in 2010. As part of the measure, the state set the July 2014 deadline for requirements for instructors at preschools with English language learners, which vary depending on the number of students who need instruction.

Joyce Weiner, policy advisor for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said she and other advocates who supported the move toward bilingual instruction recognized there would be many challenges along the way – such as changing curriculum in teacher preparation programs to include pedagogy on language acquisition for the youngest learners.

“This has been system building at its finest, in terms of incorporating both government agencies and community partners and higher education institutions,” she said.” Did we really think we were going to be able to do this in time? Well you can always shoot for the pie in the sky. But I’m not surprised an additional two years is being recommended because of the complexity of having this all come together.”

Under the proposed modifications, ISBE has included an interim measure that requires school districts unable to meet the staffing requirements to submit an annual staffing plan that includes a description of how the needs of English learners will be met.

The public comment period on the proposed delay ends on July 14.