Bipartisan Legislation will Improve Teaching for English Learners

Feb 12, 2019 Issues: Education

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and Will Hurd (R-TX) and U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NM) are introducing a bill to help English learners (ELs) succeed in school. The Reaching English Learners Act aims to close the academic achievement gap ELs face by funding teacher preparation programs that provide more effective and appropriate instruction for the non-native English-speaking student population.

“Nearly 1 in 10 Rhode Island public school students is an English learner, yet we have a shortage of teachers specifically trained to educate this growing population,” said Congressman Langevin. “As the number of English learners continues to increase across the nation, this bill will provide crucial resources to ensure the teachers of tomorrow are equipped with the necessary skills to help them succeed academically. English learners have enormous potential, and I am excited to work with leaders like Senator Cortez Masto and Congressmen Espaillat and Hurd to ensure these students can thrive.”

“We must commit and act on empowering our EL students to create their own success stories through improved supports and equitable educational opportunities,” said Carina Pinto de Chacon, Assistant Principal at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence. “I appreciated the opportunity to participate in Congressman Langevin’s panel discussion on this topic last fall, and I am thankful for his continued work in Washington to close the academic achievement gap amongst English learners.”

“This important bill being introduced by Congressman Langevin and his colleagues will provide varied opportunities for institutions of higher education to improve and expand teacher training programs in service to emergent bilingual students,” said Dr. Sarah Hesson, an Assistant Professor and the TESL Program Director at Rhode Island College. “Here at Rhode Island College, we look forward to using this opportunity to recruit, support, train, and retain future ESL and Bilingual Education teachers, especially from historically underrepresented groups.”

"English learners are the fastest growing subgroup of students in our public schools. Most teachers will encounter an EL in their classrooms at some point in their careers,” said Amalia Chamorro, Associate Director of Education Policy for UnidosUS. “The Reaching English Learners Act incentivizes higher education programs to equip diverse teachers with specialized knowledge and skills to better support ELs in their classrooms.”

“The bilingual teacher shortage currently affects over 40 states according to Department of Education data spanning more than a decade,” said Dr. Bill Rivers, Executive Director of the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL). "The Congressionally-commissioned report on language education in the US, “America's Language: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century,” specifically calls on Congress to identify opportunities to incentivize the next generation of teachers to close this gap. We commend Representative Langevin for offering the Reaching English Learners Act, as the bill directly addresses the bilingual teacher shortage while also better equipping our ever-diversifying classrooms with specially-trained teachers to manage the unique needs of English language learners.”  

“With a growing population of more than 5 million English learners in U.S. schools, and a critical shortage of qualified English language teachers, this bill will go a long way in helping to improve the readiness of future teachers, as well as the educational experiences of some of our most vulnerable students,” said Christopher Powers, Executive Director of the TESOL International Association.        

There are approximately 5 million ELs in the United States, but the majority of states report a shortage of teachers trained to address their needs. As a result, there is a significant academic achievement gap between ELs and their native English-speaking peers. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 65 percent of EL students graduate high school in four years in contrast to the national four-year graduation rate of 83 percent. 70 percent of eighth grade EL students scored “below basic” on reading proficiency, compared to 20 percent of non-ELs, while 69 percent of ELs scored “below basic” in math proficiency, compared to 24 percent of non-ELs.

The Reaching English Learners Act amends the Higher Education Act to establish a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education to partner with high-need school districts to develop teacher training programs to close this gap. The legislation ensures EL teacher candidates are prepared to handle the unique social and emotional needs of ELs and are able to identify and effectively instruct ELs with disabilities. It also encourages aspiring EL teachers to incorporate family and community engagement into their curricula and ensures they undergo high-quality clinical experiences as part of their training.

The Reaching English Learners Act has been endorsed by Joint National Committee for Languages, TESOL International Association, UnidosUS, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Association of Language Companies, and the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.

Text of the Reaching English Learners Act