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News / Northwest

State is pushing hard to recruit bilingual teachers

The Columbian
Published: August 10, 2015, 5:00pm

Bilingual teachers are in high demand these days as schools struggle to educate an increasing numbers of children who speak little — or no — English.

Some states and school districts have kicked recruitment of bilingual teachers into high gear by lowering requirements, paying bonuses and even sending officials to Mexico or Puerto Rico to find qualified bilingual Spanish teachers, according to a recent report by Fusion, the joint venture between Univision and Disney/ABC.

The need for bilingual teachers is especially high in Washington.

Between 2001 and 2010, the state’s immigrant youth population (first and second generations) grew by 51 percent — far faster than in the nation as a whole (14 percent), according to a 2013 report by the Migration Policy Institute.

But in 2011, the state’s teacher-preparation programs turned out fewer than 200 teachers with the relevant credentials, which wouldn’t even fill the needs of the Kent School District in a single year, according to the report.

Roughly one Washington student in ten (close to 111,000 students) is classified as an English Language Learner, according to the state’s Bilingual Education Advisory Committee. But in the 2013-2014 school year, only 14 percent of those students received bilingual instruction because of the shortage of credentialed teachers. The rest received instruction in English only.

The state estimates that almost 141,000 Washington students speak Spanish as their first language, 4.3 percent more than last year, though they are not considered ELL unless their English skills are low enough to delay learning.

Washington high school graduates now have the chance to earn a Seal of Biliteracy, a new credential that shows they’ve mastered a language that they’ve learned at school or at home.