Less Than Six Percent of Preschool Teachers Qualify to Work with ELL

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationLatinos accounted for three in five new workers in the regional workforce over the last decade—a number that is set to grow as a large cohort of preschool-age Latinos comes of age over the next decade. But as a new mandate designed to develop bilingual skills in these young learners is set to go into effect, the Illinois early childhood education (ECE) workforce is scrambling to comply, and yet largely uninterested in seeking additional linguistic credentials, according to study results released this week.

The study, conducted by UC Berkeley, is indicative of two disparate national trends: State boards of education embracing the importance of quality ECE for young learners as they struggle to define what constitutes quality in the face of increasing diversity in classrooms across the country. Latinos now account for nearly a quarter of students in Illinois classrooms and one-in-four Illinois children under the age of five. A third of this young, growing Latino student body is an English Language Learner (ELL).

Measuring Quality
Beginning in 2014, teachers working in state-funded, school-district administered Illinois preschool classrooms with 20 or more ELLs must hold certification in either Bilingual Instruction or English as a Second Language (ESL) in addition to standard Early Childhood Education credentials.

However, if the status quo prevails, a sliver—less than six percent—of Illinois’ current ECE workforce will be potentially qualified to teach ELLs. And the lack of dually-certified teachers is poised to exacerbate already-alarming student-to-qualified-teacher ratios. The study revealed ratios of 50 ELLs to every one bilingually-certified teacher across programs in all programs in “high Latino” communities.

Moving Forward
Just nine percent of students in Illinois are classified as ELLs, but the number of students who struggle with English-language proficiency—particularly proficiency in academic English—is likely much higher, particularly in Latino communities. Linguistic challenges are cited as just one of the many social, cultural, and economic culprits for low educational outcomes for Latino students, a trend of concern to everyone from education advocates to economists as Latino workers will be a driver of the regional economy in the future.

A research brief with full study results is available online at www.latinoedbeat.org/research/.

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