University's Bilingual Certification Program helps address shortage of teachers

Thursday, February 14, 2008

According to a recent Texas Education Agency report, more than 630,000 Texas elementary and secondary school students were learning English as a second language, while only 8 percent of certified teachers in Texas were bilingual and able to serve them. The population of students learning English has increased 113 percent in the last decade, making bilingual teacher recruitment a priority for Texas

The University of North Texas is helping address the demand for quality teachers through the UNT College of Education's Bilingual Certification Program.

The post-baccalaureate bilingual education certificate program is targeted at career changers who are proficient in both Spanish and English, but who earned college degrees in disciplines other than education. The comprehensive program requires students to take 24 academic credit hours, including student teaching or practicum.

The program allows professionals to work during the day and attend classes at night. Unlike alternative certification programs, UNT's program offers students graduate credit hours that can be applied toward master's or doctoral degrees in education.

Students who complete 12 hours of post-baccalaureate coursework and obtain passing scores on the state certification exam can secure a teaching position with a salary comparable to that of a beginning teacher. Under state policy, these students can teach under a probationary certificate while at the same time completing all requirements for state certification.

Dr. Rossana Ramirez-Boyd, director of the UNT College of Education's Bilingual/ESL Certification Program, says the bilingual teacher market is booming, with the need so great that many  school districts are paying signing bonuses and stipends between $3,000 and $5,000 for bilingual teachers.

"We don't have enough teachers," Ramirez-Boyd said. "There is a critical need. This need is so severe that school districts such as Dallas ISD and Houston ISD have had to go internationally to recruit bilingual teachers and still they are not able to meet the need."

Students from homes where Spanish is the primary language comprise more than a third of the 163,000 total student body in the Dallas school district. Similar proportions of students are evident in other school districts such as Houston and Fort Worth.

Demographic projections indicate that the rapid growth of the Hispanic population statewide will continue in coming years. Moderate growth projections by the Texas State Data Center indicate that the state's Hispanic population, which was 6.7 million in 2000, is projected to increase to 9.1 million by 2010 and to almost 19 million by 2040.

Research indicates that students who speak a language other than English at home are three times more likely to drop out of high school than those who speak English at home, but students' chances of graduating go up dramatically if they are proficient in English. In the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, the number of English learners who do not receive a diploma has increased because of students passing all the graduation requirements but failing assessment tests.

To tackle the educational challenges, some school districts have developed two-way dual language programs that place native English speakers and native Spanish speakers side by side in the same classroom with instruction provided in both English and Spanish. These programs are generally offered from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Although such programs are ideal for all students, the districts cannot find enough bilingual instructors to teach the classes, Ramirez-Boyd said.

Ramirez-Boyd said that UNT also offers the English as a Second Language (ESL) post-baccalaureate certification program, which does not require teachers to be proficient in Spanish. ESL teachers generally serve students from diverse language backgrounds, such as the Russian, Asian and Middle Eastern language groups, who want to learn English Additionally, ESL teachers serve secondary education English language learners where dual language programs are not offered.

Early enrollment for the UNT summer semester begins March 31 and ends April 28. Individuals interested in becoming a bilingual or an ESL teacher may apply for admission. For more information, go to http://www.coe.unt.edu/tea/graduate/bilingual/ or call (940) 565-2931.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108