Illinois school districts are reporting a shortage of bilingual education teachers with as many as 100 vacancies, as of October.
To help fill the void, the Illinois State Board of Education announced the launch of a $4 million grant to cover tuition costs for teachers interested in becoming licensed to teach English-language learners.
It could make all the difference for the youngest learners. A study from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research shows that getting bilingual education support to English learners early pays off in the long term.
Senior research associate and managing director at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, Marissa de la Torre said that to have young children developing English skills while still developing skills in their native language is a tall order.
“Research shows that it takes between five to seven years to really acquire the academic English that is necessary to be successful in the schools,” said de la Torre. “And in CPS, we have around 21% of the students being classified as English learners, which roughly amounts to 70,000 students, which is a really large number, and the number has been growing over time.”
Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, director of education policy and research at the Latino Policy Forum, said the need in Illinois for robust bilingual education support is immense.
“Many Latino students, about two-thirds, begin their education needing services and support in developing their English language. And so most of the English learners in the CPS system and in the state at large are really concentrated in preschool and then the early grades,” said Vonderlack-Navarro. “Statewide about 74% of our English learners are Latino Spanish speaking, it’s actually a little higher within CPS … We’ve got the fourth largest concentration of English learners of any state in the nation. And so I think it’s actually an exciting group of students and work we’ve done with the consortium and their research shows that over time these students do well when they receive adequate services and support.”
“Illinois is one of the few, if not the only, state in the nation that requires English learner services as early as the age of three. So we are the only state that’s systemically serving those kids,” Vonderlack-Navarro continued. “And so we talk a lot about the importance of early childhood. We talk a lot about the growth of English learners. But knowing that Illinois is really a leader and providing these services coupled with this study shows that those services’ work are really important.”
De la Torre said the research revealed that children who received early education support continue to reap the academic benefits for years.
“Attending pre-K programs in CPS, especially if it is a full day classroom, really (sets) the students on the path to success. First of all, they actually acquired English at a faster rate and their early literacy skills are much better if they attend a full day pre-K program,” de la Torre said. “Even after four years that they have attended pre-K or five years, we see more students are more likely to attend school. They have higher test scores and they do better in their classes, they have higher grades. So attending pre-K, especially full day, seems to be a really strong factor that helps the students begin a path to success.”
And, she noted, the reverse is true as well.
“In the long term, when we look at the students in third grade, if they haven’t received bilingual services starting in kindergarten, we see that they are less likely to come to school. They’re struggling with their classes, and they have lower test [scores] at school as well,” de la Torre said.