Dual language education programs are seen as a key strategy in both closing the achievement gap for the nation’s ever-growing ELL population as well as making English-speaking students more competitive in the international economy.
Naturally, these programs are becoming more and more popular across the country. Their numbers have increased ten-fold over the past decade or so. The more dual language’s efficacy was studied, the more benefits were found, leading to states and districts more aggressively meeting this need.
The national demand
37 states and the District of Columbia feature dual language education programs in more than 20 available languages, with demand growing for even more programs and languages. Some of this growth is top-down, coming from the state level. Others are more grassroots.
Interestingly, states that are not considered immigration hotbeds, such as North Carolina and Utah, have led the way in the state departments of education laying the groundwork for dual language programs. California is rapidly catching up, even though they have a state constitutional amendment banning bilingual education.
When the state falls short, districts who are feeling the acute need for dual language education start their own programs. New York City, which already had 150 such programs, will be adding another 40 for the upcoming school year. Districts in Houston and Boston are also rapidly expanding their dual language capacity.
But with this rapid expansion comes a need to for qualified teachers.
Where are the teachers?
The pipeline for qualified, effective dual language/immersion teachers is quite parched—for many reasons. The first is that it is not enough for a teaching candidate to simply be bilingual.
For a dual language program to have success, the teachers need to be trained not only in language acquisition, but also in helping students acquire the skills called for by the standards for the core subjects. The brain works differently during language acquisition. While this helps bring about the benefits of dual language learning, it also presents a specific challenge to the teacher.
Then there is simple economics. Education is not the only field in which language skills are in demand. Many bilingual teachers and prospective teachers find the pull of the private sector simply too great. This has forced states and districts to be proactive, recruiting teachers before they graduate and offering grant-based incentives.
A possible solution is online professional development of existing teachers. Language learning is easier than ever thanks to digital programs that offer an always-on, personalized approach to training.