Feb 21, 2023 - News

How the national teacher shortage is hurting bilingual education in North Texas

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Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The impact of our nationwide teacher shortage is particularly stark for bilingual students and English learners, advocates say.

The big picture: The number of people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English at home has nearly tripled in the last 40 years.

Zoom in: Around 65,000 out of 154,000 Dallas ISD students are in the district's emergent bilinguals program, which includes students whose primary or home language isn't English. The district has 1,898 bilingual teachers and 703 ESL teachers.

  • Richardson ISD has 175 bilingual classroom teachers and support staff for its roughly 11,100 students in need of bilingual or ESL instruction. The majority of those students are Spanish speakers.

Threat level: It's crucial for districts with high numbers of emergent bilinguals to retain as many of their teachers as possible, to minimize the impact of shortages on student learning.

  • "Bilingual educators are facing a lot more demands, what we call the invisible tax," Feliza Ortiz-Licon, chief policy and advocacy officer with Latinos for Education, tells Axios.
  • She says that "invisible tax" includes being asked to translate, helping parents who speak only one language, and providing support for students, often with little training.

Meanwhile: Many local families have struggled to make up for learning losses from the COVID shutdown.

  • Low-income Latino families across the region have expressed concerns that their young children have lagged in mastering English compared with their older siblings who went through similar classes previously, says Florencia Velasco Fortner, CEO of The Concilio, a Dallas-based nonprofit that works with Latino families on education, well-being and economic opportunities.
  • She says the challenges are more pronounced in rural communities.
  • "These families just fall through the cracks and who suffers? The student," she tells Axios.

One approach: Several local school districts have tried to incentivize bilingual teachers to take on ESL or dual language classes.

  • Dallas ISD gives a $5,000 compensation boost and a $4,000 stipend to become a certified bilingual teacher.

The bottom line: "It's in all of our interest that the Latino population gets educated and is lifted out of poverty," Velasco Fortner says.

  • "These 11-year-olds are going to be the ones that we are going to be counting on," she says. "And if we don't ask the hard questions about how to close these disparities, then we are not thinking about the future of Texas and the United States."

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