Bilingual education is one of the leading teacher shortage areas in Texas. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), there was only one qualified ESL teacher for every 46 students who need English support during the 2014-2015 school year.
TEA indicates that in the 2017-2018 school year, Texas public schools had more than 1 million bilingual or ESL learners. This number climbed by 10,000 from the previous year according to Enrollment in Texas Public Schools. So, if the ideal teacher-to-student ratio is 1 to 30, supporting 10,000 more students requires hiring more than 330 qualified bilingual educators.
The Struggle to Find Bilingual Teachers
The timing for the decline becomes disconcerting as The Dallas Morning News reported that while limited-English speakers grew in Texas by almost 50 percent in the last decade, the number of bilingual teachers dropped by 20 percent during that same time period.
Some school districts like Mesquite are implementing an incentive program that gives their best teachers -- especially those working in bilingual education -- the opportunity to earn more money. But it turns out that salary is not the primary cause for the lack of qualified bilingual educators.
Part of the problem with the shortage stems from the challenge of earning bilingual certification. Elementary school teachers need to pass only two exams for general certification. However, bilingual certification requires passing the same two exams, plus two more including a Spanish language proficiency exam.
How Texas Legislature Can Close the Gap
Some schools fill the gap with teacher aides. While many do not have a bachelor's degree, they often come from similar backgrounds as the students needing their help. Some of these teacher aides are fluent in the language the students speak.
The state, school districts and universities try to close this gap by initiating programs to help teacher aides become certified teachers. The Legislature created a tuition-exemption plan for this group in 2011, but the funding went away along with funding for many other education programs. Advocates claim the situation would improve if policymakers would restore the plan or provide funding for similar programs.
Ana Coca, president of the Texas Association for Bilingual Education, has taught future educators. She says that the teacher's aides with a bilingual background were the strongest students in her class because they already had classroom experience and were fluent in the bilingual learner's native language.
How Educators Can Qualify as Bilingual Teachers
Educators interested in working in bilingual education in Texas can view Texas' State Board for Education's approved bilingual educator standards to understand what is required. They may want to consider pursuing a Master of Science, Curriculum and Instruction with a specialty in Bilingual Education from an approved educator preparation program.
Texas A&M International University offers an M.S. with a bilingual education concentration. It is an affordable program made even more so for students who qualify for a TEACH Grant. This grant was created for people who want to teach in a high-need field, and bilingual education is one of those. TAMIU's MS program is TEACH Grant-eligible.
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